Alcohol & Advil: My Name is Lucy Barton and The Swans of Fifth Avenue

January 21, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 45

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style


Welcome to the second installment of my new feature, Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)!

For me, the “alcohol” is usually books that I either absolutely loved or books that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way (and sometimes both!). 

The Alcohol

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth StroutMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
208 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: During a long hospital stay, Lucy Barton has a heartfelt conversation with her mother spanning topics from her difficult childhood to gossip from her hometown to her marriage and motherhood.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was an unexpected winner for me…in the way I felt about it and what it was actually about. I expected a story focusing on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, and it certainly covers this territory, but it felt much more about Lucy’s own life: her childhood, what it was like to grow up poor and never quite fit in, and her adult life.

This is one of those books that has all the intangibles. I’m finding a love for otherwise quiet books whose suspense lies in revealing background information about characters in tiny drips and drabs…and My Name is Lucy Barton joined Did You Ever Have A Family in doing just that. The premise didn’t grab me upon first glance, but the gorgeous writing and life lessons, particularly about marriage and motherhood, touched an emotional chord (no actual crying…but, I did tear up a few times).

Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

My Name is Lucy Barton‘s gorgeously written hard truths give this quiet book power in a compact package…and it’s going on my Great Books Under 300 Pages List.

The Advil

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Release Date: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Delacorte Press) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.

My Thoughts: The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. 

Benjamin’s dialogue is snappy and her social commentary is devastatingly biting. The whole time I was reading, I could just picture Truman curled up at these women’s feet like a slinky cat, getting in their good graces before finally pouncing with claws out.

But, Babe, idealized and idolized, perpetually on the “Best Dressed” lists, always mentioned in columns that began, “The most beautiful women in New York,” was not desired by her own husband. Oh, yes – coveted, perhaps. Prized. Displayed, like one of his Picassos. “Mr. and Mrs. William S. Paley,” dazzling together at charity events, balls, highly sought-after at dinner parties. But Babe was not desired.

Beyond the salacious gossip, Benjamin explores friendship, marriage, loneliness, women’s identity, and what lies beneath the mask. What was it like to be so heavily focused on your outward appearance and image (umm..exhausting?!)? How do these glamorous and celebrated women deal with the fact that their husbands view them as nothing more than “glamorous concierges”? How did these women, who rarely spoke the truth,  even to each other, end up divulging so many deep, dark secrets to Truman? And, did Truman intend to betray them from the beginning? The Swans of Fifth Avenue is perfect for fans of Dominick Dunne or Vanity Fair magazine, is going on my Biogossip list.

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45 Responses to “Alcohol & Advil: My Name is Lucy Barton and The Swans of Fifth Avenue”

  1. Kay

    This is a clever feature, Sarah. I like it. I do want to read the Benjamin book and am considering the other one. Still on the fence there. I like your analogy of Capote as a slinky cat. I suspect that is pretty accurate. I read a book about Harper Lee several years ago with a book group that included a bunch about the relationship between Capote and Lee. It was pretty interesting. And didn’t necessarily make me like Capote much.

  2. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    I’m not sure why I didn’t jump at My Name is Lucy Barton; I absolutely adored Olive Kitteridge. I think it probably just didn’t grab me, at the time; I have to be in a certain mood for everything, I suppose! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I love your description. My Swans of Fifth Avenue sounds delightful!!

  3. Naomi

    This makes me want to read La Cote Basque. Have you read it?

    I will definitely be reading Lucy Barton sometime soon. I just finished Olive Kitteridge and loved it.

    • admin

      I still haven’t read Olive Kitteridge believe it or not. It’s been on my TBR for years, but Lucy Barton has certainly moved it up that list!

    • Susan

      I’ve just finished La Cote Basque, and wish I hadn’t gone there. It was nasty, really nasty. In fact, if it hadn’t been written by Truman Capote, I don’t think it would have ever been published.

      • Sarah Dickinson

        I read La Cote Basque after reading Swans and totally agree with you! You can really tell he was in a massive downward spiral while writing it. It felt like a revenge story to me.

    • admin

      I hope you get to it! It’s quiet, but if gorgeous writing can carry a book for you then I think you’ll love it!

  4. Carmen

    I’m glad Alcohol & Advil is back and that The Swans…worked well as a recovery book. I’m still trying to finish it so my review will be coming possibly next week. Good to know you liked it overall.

    • admin

      I agree – I actually don’t think I was in the right mood when I started Lucy Barton, but by the time I was 40% in or so, my mood clicked!

    • Shaina

      I totally agree with your comment, Katie! Both sound like they could be real winners, but I’d need to be in the right head space for each of them. Awesome reviews, Sarah!

  5. Gina

    I’ve been waiting for Lucy Barton since I finished Olive Kitteridge! Can’t wait to snag it. AND Did You Ever Have a Family is a new, 5-star favorite!!! I’m finishing A Little Life today so I will be very hungover!

    • admin

      I’m so glad you loved Did You Ever Have A Family! And – wow – you’ve been reading some great books all around lately.

  6. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I love your alcohol and advil posts. I couldn’t wait on Lucy in the library queue and didn’t make it to the local bookstore (they had signed copies!) because of snow and ice, so my copy was delivered from Amazon yesterday. lol I’m still waiting on Swans, but if I start reading Lucy, I might have to visit my bff, Amazon for Swans to be at the ready.

    • admin

      Ha – you and me both – I’m in the midst of the dreaded toddler years!!! Motherhood is definitely part of it, but there is way more to it. I actually thought it was more about her marriage than motherhood.

  7. Donna @ OnDBookshelf

    I’m looking forward to reading both of these. I’m currently listening to All the Stars in the Heavens which is also “fiction” based on Hollywood actors, so I may have to put a few books between that one and Swans since they have a similar plot.

  8. Catherine

    Perfect summation of both books! I’m left with only one question: how long before the movie of Swans comes out because I want to be first in line to see it.

    • admin

      Oh yeah…that would make a great movie! But, would they make it on the heels of Capote? Wasn’t that not too long ago? I read the book it was based on (the bio by Gerald Clarke I think?), but never saw the movie…

  9. Debbie Rodgers

    I have both of these on my reading list this year. I can hardly wait to get to My Name is Lucy Barton. I love Strout’s writing! I’m so glad you found it moving.

  10. Rhonda

    I loved My Name is Lucy Barton have been telling all readers run grab it.I really enjoyed The Swans of Fifthave.Truman Capote BabPaley delicious,just signed up so I keep getting your blog love this concept.

  11. Karen @ One More Page...

    I’ve been hearing some buzz about My Name is Lucy Barton and I’m definitely intrigued, especially since it’s under 300 pages long! (Your Great Books Under 300 Pages List is genius, by the way – it’s perfect for those slumpy times!)

  12. JAH

    I’m reading the Swans of Fifth Avenue right now (and it’s amazing), and Lucy Barton is in the mail. I’m even more excited for it to get here after reading your review!

  13. Diane

    The quote you choose from Lucy Barton also resonated with me. Sadly, it reminded me of how I felt as a child:( some things we never forget.

  14. Cleo @ Cleopatra Loves Books

    What a lovely idea for a post – like you, I wasn’t really expecting the story we got from Lucy Barton but it certainly packed an emotional punch! I moved onto a straightforward murder to recover though!

  15. Darlene@Lost in Literature

    I’m in the middle of Olive Kitteridge right now. Lucy Barton sounds great!
    My book club recently read Breakfast at Tiffany’s so I’ve had Capote on the radar.
    Love the post idea.:)

  16. Ashley LaMar

    Ugh. As you know I did NOT like Swans although I know most people will. I have the Lucy Barton book on my Kindle right now just waiting for me to get to it.

    • admin

      Ha – yep…I know! It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea! Lucy Barton is quiet, but the writing is gorgeous and it really touched a chord with me. I hope you enjoy it!

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