Review of The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Life was good in 1950s America. In that time between wars, where the country flourished, The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamintelevision was new and women still “dressed” for lunch,  New York City was the place to see and be seen, not by the likes of today’s bratty celebrities, but by the honest to goodness glamorous socialites of that era. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about that magical time and place, as seen through the eyes of writer Truman Capote, high society goddess, Babe Paley, and a cast of other elegant and sophisticated “swans”.

The odd, unlikely relationship between Truman Capote and his favorite swan is the perfect backdrop for this story. Yet, we soon learn that Truman and Babe have more in common than one might think. Each is self-assured and confident on the outside, but an absolute mess on the inside. Both seem to have “mommy issues” – spending their entire adult lives trying to please, and prove themselves, to their long-gone mothers. They each see the vulnerability and tragedy in the other and that’s what becomes the unbreakable (almost) bind that holds the two of them together as friends over the years.

Clearly, the author has taken great liberties with her book, which she does state at the end. Of course, she was never privy to such intimate, long ago conversations. Yet, she’s captured the essence of the time and circumstances beautifully. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is absolutely delightful, delicious and delectable. It was like eating an entire box of the finest chocolates without the guilt. I savored every bit of it and still I wanted more. The characters are so well developed; I was immediately emotionally invested in them. Babe was a tragic, lovely figure. Truman was the self-centered jerk I’d always thought he was. Yet, there was so much more to this book.

Melanie Benjamin has chosen to write this book in my favorite of all POVs – third person omniscient – which was a brilliant move. Although it can be a difficult POV to pull off, the author has taken great care to give each character his or her own individual “voice”. We’re able to view things from varying vantage points and it works magnificently. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent story. Ms. Benjamin’s writing is clever, witty and utterly engaging.

I realize some readers have voiced opinions to the effect that this book is nothing more than a fictional retelling of a story about self-absorbed, obscenely rich socialites who sit around spending money and feeling sorry for themselves. That was far from what I took away from this book. The lives of those women couldn’t have been any more different from my own. Yet, I was still able to connect with many of the characters on a human level. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about human nature, trust, insecurities, regret, life, death and so much more. I HIGHLY recommend this book!

5 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton

eBook Review Gal received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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