In 1966, Truman Capote was at the apex of his writing career. He had published the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, and had recently released In Cold Blood in book format. He even threw a Ball that year to which la creme de la creme of society and entertainment was invited. That year also marked the pinnacle of his social acceptance. He had befriended years before five high-society ladies--Babe Paley, Slim Hayward Keith, Pamela Hayward Churchill, Marella Agnelli, and Gloria Guinness--and their powerful husbands. He nicknamed those ladies his “swans”. Perennially on the best-dressed lists, these society ladies adopted Truman as if he were an exotic pet, sharing with him details of their intimate lives.
But darkness was lurking in the shadows. Unbeknownst to the swans, Truman was taking notes of every trespass, every comment, and revealed the sordid details of their intimate lives in the 1974 short story “La Cȏte Basque, 1965", published in Esquire magazine. What followed was one of the greatest literary scandals of NY society. Truman died a few years later ostracized by those families that had so readily accepted him in the cusp of his literary glory.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue reads like those appetizing stories in contemporary celebrity magazines like Star and Us Weekly that few people confess to reading, or liking. I read them and like them, so I enjoyed The Swans... a great deal.
In this novel the reader gets to know Truman's duplicitous nature. He was as enamored with the banal minutiae of the rich and famous such as the gorgeous clothes and even more fabulous lifestyles, as those rich personages he befriended. He was attached to the sense of belonging to a very exclusive club by virtue of being a literary prodigy.
Even if his society friends didn't have an exact measure of Truman's literary stature, they adored him for his flamboyance, his antics, his comic gossipy nature. What they didn't foresee was Truman's veiled hatred of the people he seemed to adore, his cattiness. He exposed their empty lives and empty marriages, the lack of affection towards their children, their obsessive preoccupation with beauty and appearances. In the end it was an act of betrayal on his part; taking advantage of people who had welcomed him and accepted him more or less for what he was. He paid dearly for it, but the damage was done.