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The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel
by Melanie Benjamin

Published: 2016-01-26
Hardcover : 368 pages
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73 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 7 members
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Aviator’s Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York’s “Swans” of the 1950s—and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley.
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Aviator’s Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York’s “Swans” of the 1950s—and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley.

People’s Book of the Week • USA Today’s #1 “New and Noteworthy” Book • Entertainment Weekly’s Must List • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick

Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a prestigious husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection.

Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrée into the enviable lives of Manhattan’s elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe’s powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls “True Heart,” Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren’t his to tell.

Truman’s fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he’ll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years. The Swans of Fifth Avenue will seduce and startle readers as it opens the door onto one of America’s most sumptuous eras.

Praise for The Swans of Fifth Avenue

“Exceptional storytelling . . . teeming with scandal, gossip and excitement.”—Harper’s Bazaar

“This moving fictionalization brings the whole cast of characters back to vivid life. Gossipy and fun, it’s also a nuanced look at the beauty and cruelty of a rarefied, bygone world.”People

“The era and the sordid details come back to life in this jewel of a novel.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“A catty, juicy read that’s like a three-martini lunch.”USA Today

“[Captures] the mesmerizing sparkle and scandal of New York high society in the 1950s.”Chicago Tribune

“Tantalizing . . . Readers will fall into a world of glitz, glamour and the exciting life of the rich and famous. The details and conversations are so rich, you may forget you're reading a novel.”—Associated Press

“Highly entertaining.”The Washington Post

“Take Gossip Girl and move it to the 50s.”theSkimm

“The strange and fascinating relationship between Capote and his ‘swans’ is wonderfully reimagined in this engrossing novel”—Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“Your next must-read book-club selection.”—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


chapter 1


Once upon a time—

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—

There once was a man from Nantucket—

Truman giggled. He covered his mouth like a little boy, and tittered until his slender shoulders shook, his blue eyes so gleefully mischievous that he looked like a statue of Pan come to life.

“Oh, Big Mama! I am such a naughty imp!”

“True Heart, you are priceless!” Slim had laughed, too, she remembered, laughed until her ribs ached. Truman did that to her in those glorious early days; he made her laugh. That was it, really. The simple truth of the matter. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

The Swans all have very complicated relationships with one another—perhaps most notably, Slim and Pamela were both married to the same man. What ties these women together, despite their differences and the sometimes competitive nature of their friendships?

Truman is embraced wholeheartedly by the swans when he first appears on the New York social scene. What do you think draws them to him?

Discuss Babe's marriage with Bill. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses?

What do you think of Truman's relationship with fame? At times, he seems willing to sacrifice almost anything (love, his health, and his friendships) in pursuit of the limelight. How does that serve him, ultimately?

Why do you think Truman published La Cote Basque, 1965? What point was he making about (or to) the story's subjects?

Truman and Babe were both heavily influenced by their mothers. In what ways were their childhood experiences similar? In what ways were they different?

Babe and her sisters were raised for successful marriages. Did they live up to their mother's hopes?

Pick three words to describe Truman and Babe's friendship. Or, pick one word to describe Truman, one to describe Babe, and one to describe their friendship.

Do you think Babe forgave Truman, in the end?
There are a number of stories told throughout the novel. What are some of the stories that you tell—about yourself or about others? In what ways do stories shape our experiences?
Who was your favorite character? Why?

Who surprised you the most? Why?

Aging is a prominent theme throughout the novel, as the opulent 50s come to an end and a new generation of socialites supplants the glamorous Swans. What did you think of that? How do you feel about getting older?

Discuss the significance of memory in this novel. In what ways do we distort our memories? What, if anything, is the significance of this?

Can you think of a woman who is the modern equivalent of Babe Paley and her circle of friends?

Babe always presents a very carefully composed face to the world. Only occasionally do we see that mask slip. Discuss those moments. Who is the real Babe, beneath the makeup and jewels?

How has the role of women in society shifted from the 1960s to today?

If you have read any of Melanie Benjamin's previous books, compare and contrast this work with her earlier novels. Is this story a departure? If so, in what ways? If not, how is it in keeping with her other writing?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Esther M. (see profile) 06/08/21

by Pam B. (see profile) 05/12/21

  " A fall from grace"by liz p. (see profile) 07/23/20

Starting in the 1950’s Truman Capote became the toast of NY high Society. He quickly becomes great friends with Babe Paley, the icon of NY society, they for m a friendship like no other. W... (read more)

by Carolyn S. (see profile) 03/08/20

by Verity j. (see profile) 10/23/19

by Nelofer H. (see profile) 09/20/19

by Maureen W. (see profile) 06/07/19

by Julia S. (see profile) 09/25/18

by Pamela K. (see profile) 08/16/18

Learned more about Truman Capote & his downfall with the swans!

by Pam L. (see profile) 08/07/18

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