"An extraordinary book." --Lauren Groff, author of Florida
Illuminating one of the great love stories of the twentieth century - Tennessee Williams and his longtime partner Frank Merlo - Leading Men is a glittering novel of desire and ambition, set against the glamorous literary circles of 1950s Italy
In July of 1953, at a glittering party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo meet Anja Blomgren, a mysteriously taciturn young Swedish beauty and aspiring actress. Their encounter will go on to alter all of their lives.
Ten years later, Frank revisits the tempestuous events of that fateful summer from his deathbed in Manhattan, where he waits anxiously for Tennessee to visit him one final time. Anja, now legendary film icon Anja Bloom, lives as a recluse in the present-day U.S., until a young man connected to the events of 1953 lures her reluctantly back into the spotlight after he discovers she possesses the only surviving copy of Williams's final play.
What keeps two people together and what breaks them apart? Can we save someone else if we can't save ourselves? Like The Master and The Hours, Leading Men seamlessly weaves fact and fiction to navigate the tensions between public figures and their private lives. In an ultimately heartbreaking story about the burdens of fame and the complex negotiations of life in the shadows of greatness, Castellani creates an unforgettable leading lady in Anja Bloom and reveals the hidden machinery of one of the great literary love stories of the twentieth-century.
With imagination and feeling, Castellani reconjures history to reveal the intricate dynamics—loving and passionate, selfless and devastating—among artists and those who nurture them.
—Annie Bostrom, Booklist
“An intriguing take on Tennessee Williams and his lover of 15 years, Frank Merlo . . . Humane, witty, and bold, this novel imagines the life of a loving but tortured couple.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A moving story of love, loss, memory and regret . . . Leading Men is a transporting adventure.” —Shelf Awareness
"I read Christopher Castellani's Leading Men in one quiet, sunny, rapt afternoon, and spent hours afterwards just stunned from having been immersed in such a tender, psychologically devastating, and gorgeously precise novel. An extraordinary book." —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida
"Leading Men is glorious, a meditation on the ravages of fame, an investigation into the private lives of public artists, and one of the most moving love stories I've read in ages. It's hard to imagine better company on the page than Tennessee Williams and those who loved and loathed him. By bringing to life these literary visionaries, Christopher Castellani proves himself their eminently worthy heir." —Anthony Marra, author of The Tsar of Love and Techno
"With echoes of Tender is the Night and The Sun Also Rises, Leading Men tells the extraordinary love story of Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. Castellani elegantly weaves together Merlo's final days with memories of a dramatic (and delicious) Italian summer in 1953 that changes his world forever. Throw in an aging Swedish actress, Truman Capote, Italian cinema and the staging (and script!) of a lost Williams play and you have all the ingredients for a literary page-turner. Leading Men is about fame and love and forgiveness, about the ravages of time, and how we try to lay claim to the future, while the present slips through our fingers." –Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
"With extraordinary artistry and grace, Christopher Castellani interweaves history and invention to show us both the depths great artists are driven to and the love that draws them back. I know of few books that give such a moving account of the indispensable value of genius and its intolerable human cost. This is a novel of rare insight and beauty, and Castellani is a writer of brilliant gifts." —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
"Leading Men is a daredevil of a novel, like the prettiest boy in the gay bar doing a backflip off a stool and not spilling his drink. Castellani has set his eye on that ineffable profane that is the other face of the divine, in a novel that unites my obsessions with Tennessee Williams, Luchino Visconti, Truman Capote, film, cruising, and Italy, and wraps it up in a love story, but a story of old love--love of a kind we almost never see written." —Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night"Leading Men is a novel as moving as it is entertaining, a book that restored my faith in the old cliche that only through fiction -- by exploring the possibilities of what might have happened -- can we reach the truth. Christopher Castellani has written an astounding novel of great imaginative empathy that, by the end, had this cynic weeping." —Peter Orner, author of Love and Shame and Love
“Leading Men stirs up the kind of beautiful trouble we admire in the work of Tennessee Williams. A clever, allusive, multi-layered novel filled with wit, insight, and heart. I loved it." —Justin Torres, author of We The Animals