On a Thursday morning in May 1961, a well-mannered twenty-one-year-old named Marlene enters the Fifth Avenue apartment of Lee Radziwill to interview for the position of housekeeper and cook. The stylish wife of London-based Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, Princess Lee is intelligent and creative, with ambitions beyond simply jet-setting. But to the public, she is always First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s little sister.
As Marlene becomes a trusted presence in the Radziwill household, she observes the dazzling array of famous figures who flit in and out of Lee’s intimate circle, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Rudolf Nureyev, Jackie and the President, Ari Onassis, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol, and, most regularly, celebrated author Truman Capote. At the height of his fame following the success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman has granted Lee place of honor in his flock of glamorous socialite “swans.”
Their closeness stems from an unexpected kinship. Both know too well the feeling of being second-best. Seeing his shadow in the woman he refers to as his most unconventional swan, Truman uses his influence and talent to try and make Lee a star.
Their bond deepens through the decade’s extraordinary events, from JFK’s assassination to the era-defining Black and White Ball. But Marlene, who Truman has taken under his wing as an aspiring writer, can see Truman’s darker side—especially his penchant for mining his friends’ private lives for material. And there are betrayals on either side that may signal the end not just of a friendship, but of the shared expectation that wealth and fame can shield against every heartbreak.
Such Good Friends (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible.com)
I love a good historical fiction novel based upon real persons and events to see how one author interprets a well-known person’s life. In this case, we have two well-known people, author Truman Capote and socialite Lee Radziwell, who was also Jacqueline Kennedy’s younger sister. Since this is a Kennedy-adjacent fiction book, I was optimistic I would like it.
However, I was sadly disappointed in how the story was presented. The reader meets Marlene, the fictional former cook/cleaner/personal secretary, looking back on her life. Then there’s a series of flashbacks involving Radziwell and Capote, and most of the time they don’t even involve Marlene, so it’s this weird point-of-view that doesn’t work because you’re wondering how she knows about these conversations verbatim. The structure of the story would have been much better had there not even been a fictional character, or introduce her at the beginning, then do an actual flashback chapter or two, then gone back to the present.
Because the way the story was structured was confusing, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I could have. Truman Capote was a tortured genius with a wicked sense of humor, but I don’t think that came across with the unique way the story was structured. As for Lee Radziwell, she always seemed kind of shallow, and nothing this book presented made me think any differently about her. I’m sure it’s not true, and fiction is a good way to break stereotypes, but instead of shattering them, they’re reinforced.
There’s a twist at the end of the book regarding the fictional Marlene and at that point I just shrugged. It wasn’t a big deal, probably because I felt like this could be two books, Marlene was an interesting enough character to have her own book about her relationship with Truman Capote and his helping her become a better writer, and the other book could have been about Truman Capote and a few of his “swans,” the socialites who hung out with him, including Lee Radziwell. Unfortunately, the book we have is wholly unsatisfying and as vapid as the social set described in the book.
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from NetGalley, Kensington Books, John Scognamiglio Books and the author in exchange for an honest review; all opinions expressed are my own.
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