The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin, author; narrators, Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer
Covering about three decades, this is a fictional, biographical presentation of Truman Capote and his swans, the upper crust ladies of New York society, obsessed with their appearance, raised largely to seek appropriate husbands, perform their wifely duties impeccably, and seek the camera lens that would feature them on the society pages. Their wealth and breeding defined them. Truman, on the other hand, came from a different walk of life. He seemed self-absorbed, narcissistic and insecure and would stop at nothing to gain fame and fortune. He was the ultimate sycophant, but he miscalculated the affections of others for him, which led to his downfall.
Truman Capote sought fame as an author. He befriended and was befriended by a group of socialites who enjoyed being surrounded by his flamboyance. His closest relationship among them, was with Bobolink (Babe Paley), as he called her. They developed a warm and unusual, intimate relationship. A self-professed homosexual, he was affected, but fun to be with in the manner of a childhood best friend. At times foppish and garish in his demeanor and dress, his insecurity, disguised as arrogance and his fondness for drink, led him astray. Eventually, the social climber that he was betrayed those who provided him his place of honor in society, and his fall from grace was of his own making. He wrote a story for Esquire Magazine, entitled "La Côte Basque 1965", which was intended as a prelude to his next novel. The story humiliated and exposed his friends for the shallow, catty, striving human beings they occasionally were, as he revealed their secrets to the world, secrets that they had confided in him over the years. He was soon ostracized. He incorrectly predicted their reactions to his disclosures.
The book is described as fictional biography and/or historic fiction, and the story is colorful and interesting as it exposes the underbelly of yesteryear’s high society and those who sought it by whatever means necessary. At all times, it is engaging, even though it sometimes reads like a gossip column written by Liz Smith and at times like a confession. The names of the rich and famous are dropped into the narrative; Bennett Cerf, Peter Duchin, Papa Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Princess Margaret, Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Cushings, Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Mortimers, Astors, and more are all present and accounted for in the book. This was indeed the world of the elite.
The relationship between Truman and Babe Paley was portrayed as unique. They were confidantes. Truman was neglected as a child and loved to be entertained and appreciated since he lacked that for most of his life. Babe filled that need. She was brought up to be the perfect wife, never letting herself slip in public, never being anything but her best. She could let down her guard with Truman and simply be herself. Her friends also confided in him and treated him like “one of the girls”. The fact that he betrayed these members of society who had befriended him, opened doors for him, and supported him in his endeavors, seemed shameful even though their own ethics and behavior left much to be desired.
This audio was a very authentic reading of the characters' personalities, accents and speech impediments. Truman’s lisp and the air of aristocracy of the rich and famous literally rolled off their tongues. The narrators made the book come alive as if it was a stage performance. I highly recommend the book and anything read by these narrators. I am more familiar with Cassandra Campbell who I have heard and enjoyed before, but this narration by both narrators was excellent. The author scored a winner with them. I had both the print and audio version of the book and preferred the audio.