Books & Wine Wednesday!
The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (January 26, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10 – a fun book, well-written and a quick, easy read!
Reading Sara Review: Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, and the Swans of Fifth Avenue was no exception. Telling the story of Truman Capote and his headline-making, fashionistas through their friendship and the ultimate fallout was a treat from start to finish. This is not the best book I will read this year, but it is fun to take a step back in time and enjoy the lives of the rich and famous.
This is not a spoiler, because this is historically accurate, but gives useful context to the book: Capote had a group of socialite ladies that he adored and adored him – he called them his swans. During their friendship, Truman published a work in Esquire, called “La Côte Basque 1965,’ betraying his swans secrets and trust. They never forgave him –and it is unclear if he forgave himself. After its publishing, Truman was a New York outcast and his decline into alcoholism and drugs became severe. La Côte Basque 1965 was supposed to be a part of his unfinished book, Answered Prayers.
Truman Capote was a character – while utterly brilliant in his writing, he was a gossip, obsessed with fame (and fortune) and beauty. I believe his friendship with Babe Paley was real and sincere. Benjamin expertly guides the reader through their friendship, imagining some intimate and beautiful moments – so the reader is left wondering why did he betray Babe (and the other swans)? And did Babe forgive him at the end of her life?
Babe Paley is a marvelous character. She was smart, beautiful, and her mother raised her to be a good wife. Truman offers her an escape from that world for a time – allows her to laugh and show him a different side. She is just fabulous because she is full of flaws. My favorite parts of this book were the stories about Babe. I hurt for her, wanted her to fight to be so much more than she was, and was saddest for her when Truman broke her heart.
Ultimately, this is a story about friendship. The friendships between the women – who have affairs with each other’s husbands, fall in love with the wrong men and don’t confide in each other because they want everything to appear perfect and exquisite. In an age when appearances matter most, how was true friendship measured? I think that their friendships relied on the secret-keeping, which is why the swans felt so betrayed when Truman exposed them and their lives to the public.
If you are a fan of Truman Capote’s, or just a fan of socialites, this book will be a fun treat. Benjamin creates a beautiful world for the reader to explore – and does not offer up answers to the many questions that you will have when you finish, but allows you to explore them on your own, which is just as fun.
For further reading on Truman Capote and the backlash of La Côte Basque 1965 and the unfinished manuscript mystery, I recommend this fun Vanity Fair article. And, if you don’t have time to read the book, this article gives some great socialite drama scoop.
Wine Recommendation: Many people think that rosé is just for the summertime: I’m here to tell you that it is a wine for all seasons, and you can find a delightful rose to pair with your winter reading. Because this book is about fancy people, I recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. These are going to be a little more interesting, deeper flavor, and you can feel elegant while still finding a bottle for under $20. I like them because of their peppery and currant flavor, but sometimes they can have high acidity because they are not aged in oak. They pair well with everything from a hearty salad to pasta – again, entirely drinkable in the winter! The brands that I recommend are Mira Winery (Napa Valley), Mulderbosch (South Africa) and Chateau Bonnet (Bordeaux).