The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin, Hardcover, 368 pages, January 2016, Delacorte Press
I’ve always had a weakness for celebrity gossip. While I claim the mantle of politically-correct (more below) socialist-libertarian-egalitarian, count myself among those who believe capitalism has run amok, a behemoth become evil empire overseen and heavily-hand-ruled by a small cabal of venal, heterosexual white men who are determined to enslave the rest of us and lay waste to equality and democracy, much of my righteous indignation comes from the truth that I am poor, will always be poor, and have never had a path to gain foothold among the haves and one-percenters. There is little doubt I would gladly have compromised my morality for a Fifth Avenue apartment with a view and the opportunity to hobnob with the upper echelons of society, to rub elbows (and anything else to which they’d give me access) with the beautiful people.
It’s that aspirational acquisitiveness that makes novels like The Swans of Fifth Avenue so seductive. Reading this novel’s pre-publication publicity, I’d hoped for a juicy roman a clef in the Dominick Dunne tradition; his Vanity Fair columns (most of Vanity Fair, come to think of it) and novels like The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, A Season In Purgatory, An Inconvenient Woman, People Like Us, were thinly veiled exposes of people we commoners — the hoi polloi — had always envied but could, thanks to Mr. Dunne’s admittance and spy-work, now also pity and pooh-pooh and sanctimoniously tsk-tsk, patting ourselves on the back that we did not indulge in such malignity, malice, and evil even as we wished with all our avaricious little hearts that we could have those Porthault linens and hot, available, sexy chauffeurs and lawnboys.
Well, I’d still sell out for a Fifth Avenue view, high-thread-count sheets, and available and willing hunky, horny servant types — you can’t get much commoner than am I — and so I thought I’d have more fun reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue than I did. And damn damn damn this evolution of self, since I didn’t, I have to figure out why.
For those of you who read “reviews” for synopses, here’s what the publisher says: