The Swans of Fifth Avenueby Melanie Benjamin, the author of Alice I Have Been, tells the story of Truman Capote and his New York socialite friends, especially highlighting his relationship with Babe Paley. This whole novel is a gossipy delight, especially since I was mostly familiar with Truman Capote through In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this story reveals a whole new side. I love manners novels, and this has wonderfully cutting accounts of which social activities are acceptable (sleeping with friends’ properly pedigreed husbands) and which are embarrassing faux pas (touching up one’s lipstick in public).
After years of gossiping, traveling, and dining in all the right places, Capote publishes a short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” about the scandals of thinly-veiled Manhattan socialites. Predictably, Manhattan society is outraged by Capote’s publishing of deep secrets and dirty laundry, not to mention his terribly unflattering descriptions of very recognizable characters. Swans of Fifth Avenue shows Capote’s affection for Babe Paley, his closest friend among the “swans,” but even her secrets slip out and appear in his work. Or did they slip out accidentally? The novel also covers Capote’s decline from witty new writer to a drunk and drugged out hedonist, and by the end, it’s hard to know just how much of Capote’s public airing of friends’ secrets was thoughtless, calculated, or just self-destructive.
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Wednesday, February 17th, 2016||No Comments »|
What child hasn’t grown up with Lewis Carroll’s beloved character Alice, who so curiously explored Wonderland? Whether it was the original books or Disney’s animated film, Alice in Wonderland is a character that almost everyone knows about.
However, not many people know that she was based on a real woman, named Alice Liddell Hargreaves, who was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, England and that her family was good friends with Charles Dodgson, also known as Lewis Carroll.
Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been allows Alice, who in the beginning is an 80-something year old woman, to speak in her own voice. As a child, she was condemned for being a feisty tomboy, and readers get a glimpse of how restricted that time period was for a woman who was different. Benjamin’s Alice is curious and has a realistic childlike air to her instead of being a flat one-dimensional character. As Alice grows up and realizes that she can’t escape her fictional counterpart, the readers are sympathetic and are allowed to share her grief and her triumphs thanks to Benjamin’s compelling writing style.
The author is also not afraid of controversy, either—there’s some suggestive imagery in the text that will make the reader question what Dodgson’s motives are, especially after he dresses Alice up as a half-naked beggar girl for one of his photography shoots. Benjamin leaves it up for the reader to decide, which can be frustrating but given that no one knows what he was thinking in real life, is oddly fitting.
Although this is an entertaining historical fiction novel, this isn’t just a snapshot look at Victorian life, it’s Benjamin’s way of playing with the idea that powerful and popular stories can not only capture their readers in a “looking glass,” but their muses as well.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Thursday, December 5th, 2013||No Comments »|