Elegant Babe's thoughts, if not her lips, are unsealed at last. Those unaware of the scandal get CliffsNotes; and everyone...



Class, cliques, and cattiness converge in this New York fable based on the lives of Truman Capote and his greatest fan, Babe Paley.

As it happens, Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife, 2013, etc.) puts more honey than vinegar in her rendering of the disarming palship between the openly gay author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and his much-married “Bobolink”—Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, the outwardly towering, inwardly cowering Upper East Side matron he squired around town for a quarter century. A chorus of the couple’s BFFs provides commentary on their history, as Benjamin spirals chirpily through the hedonistic '50s, '60s, and '70s, cherry-picking scenes of their first, chance weekend together at the Paleys' compound in Jamaica (“So many wanted to catch him at it! Watch as genius burned!”), thick as thieves over lunch at Le Cirque, or swapping confidences about their narcissistic mothers—more craved than kisses—at slumber parties in the Hamptons, all the way through to the publication of Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood, and his infamous Black and White masquerade ball. The event that allegedly drove them apart—when Truman mauled Babe and her set in thinly disguised print—has been raked over repeatedly by critics, filmmakers, and biographers (including Babe’s friend Slim Keith—one of the Kenneth-coiffed swans alluded to in the title), so it's no surprise when the novel re-creates some iconic moments leading up to the rift: such as when Truman notices for the first time that Babe's husband—CBS executive William S. Paley—smiles "like a man who had just swallowed an entire human being." (Capote recognizes a keeper—and files it away “in his photographic memory, to be used at a later date.”) The character Benjamin takes most imaginative liberty with, naturally, is Babe—the cool cucumber in Mainbocher who (the chatter went) could brush off her husband’s wolfishness with practiced ease and neither bleeped a word against nor spoke to her literary pet again after he published "La Cote Basque 1965."

Elegant Babe's thoughts, if not her lips, are unsealed at last. Those unaware of the scandal get CliffsNotes; and everyone else gets a chance to judge whether a swan’s muteness can be more interesting than her gripe.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-345-52869-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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