Thursday, May 19, 2016

"The Swans of Fifth Avenue," by Melanie Benjamin

WHY did I read “The Swans of Fifth Avenue” (Delacorte, 2016), by Melanie Benjamin? Well, I know why: it has a literary aspect, in that it tells the story of the well-known author Truman Capote’s betraying the confidences of his society women friends (Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill, etc.) (dubbed "the swans") when he wrote about them, in thinly disguised form, in “La Cote Basque 1965,” the first installment of a planned (but never finished) novel “Answered Prayers.” This was a major literary and social scandal at the time (1975). Of course the New York City aspect also attracted me. But why did I think I would learn anything new, or that reading about this old scandal would be enjoyable? Yes, this novel about a real-life situation is fun in a sort of catty way, with bits of insight and occasionally thoughtful portrayals of both Capote and his friends, as well as of the “high society” of the times. And of course there is some juicy (but old) gossip. But mostly it just doesn’t live up to the potential of its topic or its real-life characters. OK, I did keep reading, and I did finish the novel. But I closed the book with the question I started this entry with: WHY did I read it?

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