By Leslie Lehr
Benjamin writes historical fiction with the ear of a playwright. As a longtime Vogue, Vanity Fair & Esquire reader, I’ve heard of Babe Paley and her crew. As a writer I’ve read Truman Capote. But never have I known the full story of this unusual combination until now.
The tale begins with a large set piece – many characters in the elaborate story world of New York high society. As we settle in to this lofty time of yore, the women become familiar, partly due to her early admission of each character’s ghost. By choosing to humanize these wealthy women, Benjamin draws the reader into their world with the empathy needed to care about these women we might now call trophy wives. Here the trophies are husbands, and these women work very hard to earn them. The varying points of view allow Benjamin to use her incredible research to paint the shadows of this world with emotional nuance.
Once we are comfortable rooting for Babe, her relationship with Truman draws us forward like champagne in an old fashion goblet, but it’s a whirlpool circling faster and faster until it drains into the stem…which leaks and stains the tablecloth, the very fabric of society. Truman’s rise, fall and betrayal is a symbol of the larger loss that this privileged society feels from the forward marching of time.
Or, as Benjamin writes so elegantly about the end of the era of the swans, “the faint ripples in the wake of their water.”