Leading Men
An expansive yet intimate story of desire, artistic ambition, and fidelity, set in the glamorous literary and film circles of 1950s ItalyIn 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.

Leading Men Details

TitleLeading Men
Author
ReleaseFeb 12th, 2019
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780525559054
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Lgbt

Leading Men Review

  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    Beginning in 1953 some of the glitterati of the literati are the leading men of this novel. The big names here are Tennessee Williams and the malicious gossip Truman Capote (he makes only a few appearances). The other two leading men are Williams’ partner/assistant/nursemaid the good natured and reliable, Frank Merlo, and the lesser known author John Horne Burns. As he lay dying in 1963, Merlo revisits a tumultuous summer with Williams and his role as bit player standing in the massive shadow of Beginning in 1953 some of the glitterati of the literati are the leading men of this novel. The big names here are Tennessee Williams and the malicious gossip Truman Capote (he makes only a few appearances). The other two leading men are Williams’ partner/assistant/nursemaid the good natured and reliable, Frank Merlo, and the lesser known author John Horne Burns. As he lay dying in 1963, Merlo revisits a tumultuous summer with Williams and his role as bit player standing in the massive shadow of the renowned playwright. It is during this summer that Williams and Merlo meet the soon-to-become iconic actress, Anja, who tells her portion of the tale as an old woman living in seclusion. The movement throughout the book from one narrator to the other is flawless although Merlo’s story is considerably more compelling. A blend of fact and fiction, Leading Men reflects upon art, fame, longing and loyalty set against the bewitching backdrop of 1950’s Italy. This is a genuinely poignant literary love story. Did you know that Williams’ years with Merlo were his most productive? I didn’t.
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  • Marialyce
    January 1, 1970
    This one held no appeal to me. I tried to get into it but gave up at the 20% point.
  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book through the First Reads giveaway program.I believe one of the signs of a truly exceptional novel is that it springboards a desire within the reader to explore even more works of literature. This book has certainly done that for me. Serendipity would say that this book landed in my mailbox just as I finished watching a movie about Truman Capote. Along comes this beautifully profound novel about Tennessee Williams and the other literary geniuses of the day. I now want to devou I received this book through the First Reads giveaway program.I believe one of the signs of a truly exceptional novel is that it springboards a desire within the reader to explore even more works of literature. This book has certainly done that for me. Serendipity would say that this book landed in my mailbox just as I finished watching a movie about Truman Capote. Along comes this beautifully profound novel about Tennessee Williams and the other literary geniuses of the day. I now want to devour everything written by not only this particular author, but each one mentioned in the book. That is what great writing inspires us to! :) Thank you so much for a glimpse into the past, but also a chance to read more from some of the literary greats! "Each man kills the thing he loves. The killing is not voluntary, but we sure as hell do it. And burn for it. "
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  • Crystal King
    January 1, 1970
    Castellani's first three novels captivated me thoroughly but Leading Men took all my emotions and ratcheted them up a level. I can't stop thinking about this book. I fell in love with Frank Merlo and Anja Bloom, with Tennesee William's Italian jet-setting ways, with the backdrop of 1950s Italy, with all of it. The book is beautifully written, so much so that now that I have read it to feel wrapped up in the story, I intend to read it again for the craft of it. I want to understand how he turns t Castellani's first three novels captivated me thoroughly but Leading Men took all my emotions and ratcheted them up a level. I can't stop thinking about this book. I fell in love with Frank Merlo and Anja Bloom, with Tennesee William's Italian jet-setting ways, with the backdrop of 1950s Italy, with all of it. The book is beautifully written, so much so that now that I have read it to feel wrapped up in the story, I intend to read it again for the craft of it. I want to understand how he turns those gorgeous phrases, how he uses POV to unwrap the most delicate parts of the story, how he colors the world so the reader feels like they are a part of it. Bravo, Christopher Castellani, bravo.
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  • Whitney Scharer
    January 1, 1970
    Italy, a booze-soaked party thrown by Truman Capote, a mysterious Swedish film star, and the gorgeous love story between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo--what's not to adore about this novel? From the first page, I was swept into the rich and mesmerizing world of Castellani's LEADING MEN, and enjoyed it right up to its incredibly moving and satisfying ending. This ambitious novel has a rich cast of characters and whisks you from 1950s Italy in the 1950s to Manhattan in the 1960s to the theate Italy, a booze-soaked party thrown by Truman Capote, a mysterious Swedish film star, and the gorgeous love story between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo--what's not to adore about this novel? From the first page, I was swept into the rich and mesmerizing world of Castellani's LEADING MEN, and enjoyed it right up to its incredibly moving and satisfying ending. This ambitious novel has a rich cast of characters and whisks you from 1950s Italy in the 1950s to Manhattan in the 1960s to the theater world in Provincetown, Massachusetts, all while exploring themes of love, fidelity, and the challenges of forging one's own identity while in a partnership with a creative genius. I loved it!
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  • Leah DeCesare
    January 1, 1970
    A gorgeous story taking Tennessee Williams love, Frank Merlo, from the shadows and backstage right into the spotlight, making him--at last--the leading man. Beautifully written!
  • Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
    January 1, 1970
    "They say artists crave immortality. I say we don't give a fuck about the next life. It's this one we want more of." *In the summer of 1953, American writer Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo attend a wild party in Italy hosted by Truman Capote.  It's there that they meet the beautiful aspiring actress Anja Blomgren and their lives change forever.Tenn and Frank travel Italy with Anja and her mother, as well as writer Jack Horne and his lover Sandro.  After hiking to a remote cliff, the "They say artists crave immortality. I say we don't give a fuck about the next life. It's this one we want more of." *In the summer of 1953, American writer Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo attend a wild party in Italy hosted by Truman Capote.  It's there that they meet the beautiful aspiring actress Anja Blomgren and their lives change forever.Tenn and Frank travel Italy with Anja and her mother, as well as writer Jack Horne and his lover Sandro.  After hiking to a remote cliff, they find themselves surrounded by a group of boys and a fight breaks out as the group attacks Anja and her mother. "Anja interpreted Suddenly Last Summer as Tenn's revenge on her for going beyond him in fame, as her punishment for not following behind him begging for scraps like an American actress." *Though haunted by the act of violence on the cliff, Anja goes on to become a celebrated actress thanks to the help of Tenn and Frank that summer in Italy.She loved Frank and kept in touch with him through his long illness while Tenn distanced himself from Frank as his condition grew worse.  Tenn paid for Frank's radiation and care but could not bring himself to sit by his side as he died.In the present day, Anja has become a recluse in the U.S.  A young man unexpectedly contacts her and she discovers he's connected to the events of that fateful summer in Italy.When the young man learns that Anja possesses the sole copy of the final play ever written by Tennnessee Williams, he begs her to step back in the spotlight one final time to share it with the world.The problem is that the play is personal; it shares a part of Tenn that he never shared with anyone and it holds a great deal of hurt for Anja who never forgave Tenn for abandoning Frank when he needed him most.Leading Men does a fantastic job of seamlessly alternating narrators and time periods while weaving fact and fiction to detail a very complicated literary love story.The writing was absolutely phenomenal---I wanted to highlight so many of the lovely and compelling passages!  Unfortunately I never connected with any of the characters.  While they are described in great detail there was something that prevented me from finding dimension to the characters and because of that I wasn't invested in the story itself.Thanks to Viking and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for an honest review.  Leading Men is scheduled for release on February 12, 2019.*Quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I finished this exquisite novel yesterday and can't stop thinking about it. Christopher Castellani expertly balances three main time periods : the wine-soaked days Tennessee Williams and his partner Frank Merlo spent in Italy in the 1950s with a cast of characters both fictional (the actress Anja Bloom) and real (Truman Capote); Merlo's last days in the early 1960s; and the present day, where an elderly Anja is forced to confront the past. The writing itself is dazzling, the stories in all time I finished this exquisite novel yesterday and can't stop thinking about it. Christopher Castellani expertly balances three main time periods : the wine-soaked days Tennessee Williams and his partner Frank Merlo spent in Italy in the 1950s with a cast of characters both fictional (the actress Anja Bloom) and real (Truman Capote); Merlo's last days in the early 1960s; and the present day, where an elderly Anja is forced to confront the past. The writing itself is dazzling, the stories in all time frames compelling. But it's the portrait of Merlo that touched me the most. Always in Tennessee's shadow in life, Castellani has elevated him, with this novel, to the role of leading man.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    4.5. How I wish Goodreads allowed .5's. This is one of those rare books where I actually slowed down while reading to stay with the characters longer. All of them are so lovingly rendered, realistically and some times painfully, Frank broke my heart. The story told is the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, with sections that move back and forth between their time spent in Italy and abroad in the 1950's while Williams was writing some of his best plays, and current times in 4.5. How I wish Goodreads allowed .5's. This is one of those rare books where I actually slowed down while reading to stay with the characters longer. All of them are so lovingly rendered, realistically and some times painfully, Frank broke my heart. The story told is the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, with sections that move back and forth between their time spent in Italy and abroad in the 1950's while Williams was writing some of his best plays, and current times in which their friend, Anja, struggles with the task of honoring her friends memory. This book has that page turning magic that walks the fine line between historical staging and gossip, which allows the reader to engage with the book on a very personal level - at times feeling like you are one of the gang yourself. It is also a departure from Castellani's family based stories but the care and empathy that Castellani brings to all his characters is on full display. By far his best work............ This is a book about Love, Craft, Muses, Societal Norms and Beautiful Landscapes. As a bookseller I can't wait to put this in one in readers hands.
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  • Bandit
    January 1, 1970
    Traditionally I enjoy historical fiction and ones revolving around real life characters are all the more interesting and yet…this one was a drag, no pun intended, despite the fact that a drag queen saves the day toward the end of the book. I tried and tried. Something about the gay romantic lives of famous authors just didn’t do it for me. I don’t think it was the setting, post WWII Italy and present day NYC and Provincetown are great literary destinations. So it has to be down to the characters Traditionally I enjoy historical fiction and ones revolving around real life characters are all the more interesting and yet…this one was a drag, no pun intended, despite the fact that a drag queen saves the day toward the end of the book. I tried and tried. Something about the gay romantic lives of famous authors just didn’t do it for me. I don’t think it was the setting, post WWII Italy and present day NYC and Provincetown are great literary destinations. So it has to be down to the characters. And the limelight of that show belongs to Tenn and Frank, the famous author and playwright and his lover of 15 years. You get to follow their tumultuous on and off affair through the years, continents and other men. Because, yeah, they slept around like crazy, sometimes competitively. Yet they went on, the melodramatic Tennessee and the optimistic Frank. The latter is obviously meant to be the likeable one here, but overall their great love affair just didn’t work for me. Or for them, for that matter. Although their years together were the most productive of Tennessee’s life. It fact it didn’t even seem like a great love affair it was meant to be, more like a severely dysfunctional relationship. Unless relationships between two men have different standards. The entire thing actually…the languorous decadence of the literati’s lifestyles, just didn’t sing for me. Everyone came off superficial and tedious. Except for maybe Anja Bloom, the glue that holds the story and the main couple together in a way. Ms. Bloom is a fictionalized version of Liv Ullmann, her perspective carries the novel into present day, where she is very old and very wealthy and decides to put on a play to commemorate Frank and Tenn. And yes, the novel does feature a complete (and completely fabricated) unknown Tennessee’s play. And yes, it’s no fun, neither the play nor the fact that it’s stuck in there. But Anja Bloom has layers, she’s fascinating and possibly the most developed character in the book. Which is ironic or at least very strange…that the fictional(ish) person should be more interesting, likeable and compelling that the real ones. So that’s the book. I really tried to like it, but mostly managed a sort of academic appreciation. It’s well written, proper literature and all that, but so very slow and difficult to care about. It’s possible I’m just not the right audience for it. Christopher Castellani as an author himself and a gay man has obviously found the story much more relatable as the afterword leads us to believe and so this book was a labor of love for him. And Tennessee fans would probably find this interesting also. It is, after all a good story, but for me an article or a short form (novella at most) would have sufficed. Thanks Netgalley.
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  • Kales
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 -- This is a solid, deep and moving book. Despite being a playwright and a theater student, I knew little about the works of Tennessee Williams beyond Streetcar and Glass Menagerie. Honestly, I first picked up this book because it starts at a party held by Truman Capote and I'm a sucker for a good historical fiction with Capote. And this amazing story did not disappoint.The language and voice of each character was well portrayed. You got a sense of each individual, fictional or real, and how 4.5 -- This is a solid, deep and moving book. Despite being a playwright and a theater student, I knew little about the works of Tennessee Williams beyond Streetcar and Glass Menagerie. Honestly, I first picked up this book because it starts at a party held by Truman Capote and I'm a sucker for a good historical fiction with Capote. And this amazing story did not disappoint.The language and voice of each character was well portrayed. You got a sense of each individual, fictional or real, and how they complimented and destroyed each other. I loved the blend of past and present, as Anja and Frank's lives came to an end. Because you knew what we were heading for, the end however that was meant to turn out. And it was sad, hard but beautiful.The relationships were fascinating to me. It was a fascinating window into gay culture of the time as well as dominant vs placating personalities. But not in a harmful way -- sure, there were some abuses of power, it was bound to happen. I thoroughly appreciated the author's note at the end. The idea of "man kills the thing he loves" is well portrayed and evident in the destruction and re-construction of these relationships, romantic or no.Finally, I appreciated this notion of ambition. It was an undertone in both Frank and Anja that ebbed and flowed in their journeys. This notion of playing second fiddle to people like Williams and Capote, but then when Anja gets her taste of brilliance and fame, the continuous chase of it...while Frank abandons it upon the first sign of failure. It's well done and fascinating. I liked the honesty of it.At points, the book was slow and there were times I was looking for more of a structured plot -- forgetting why I was reading about these characters. I'm a plot person, but I was captivated by these characters and once you got into the rhythm of their voices, you realized the plot was maybe subtler than one would have liked but still present and strong. I think this is a great historical fiction read, great for fans of Melanie Benjamin or Paula McLain. It allows you into the underbelly of a supposedly glamorous and brilliant time, and those that lived it. And I appreciated its honesty.Conclusion: Buy the hardcover (already shared the ARC with a co-worker)
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  • Jeanne Blasberg
    January 1, 1970
    This book was ground breaking for me in many ways. The structure was brilliant, but more than that was the rendering of the relationships - so difficult to define with societal lexicon - which suffered because there was no acceptable construct. There was so much love and caring between Frank and Tennessee and between Frank and Anja, but because these relationships were outside the norm, they were terribly vulnerable and subject to uproar. Never before have I read and empathized with characters w This book was ground breaking for me in many ways. The structure was brilliant, but more than that was the rendering of the relationships - so difficult to define with societal lexicon - which suffered because there was no acceptable construct. There was so much love and caring between Frank and Tennessee and between Frank and Anja, but because these relationships were outside the norm, they were terribly vulnerable and subject to uproar. Never before have I read and empathized with characters who faced such exclusion from what was mainstream with regard to legitimizing relationships. Living in the shadow of a great artist, Frank Merlo won my heart. I truly rooted for him and in the end wept for him.Besides providing an incredible lens into undefinable relationships there was the extreme fun of being in post war Italy and gaining a glimpse into the private lives (and social lives) of people like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. The insertion of screen play and and the alternating time lines (something I really love) made this book different, ambitious, and hard to put down. I can't wait to discuss it with other readers.
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  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    The story of the great love affair between playwright Tennesse Williams and Frank Merlo is one of hidden desires, public discretion, and unfinished business. It is a look at what it takes to love a genius, someone with a great talent and even greater ego in a time of great talent and secrets. This is a close look at some very famous couples and their friends, some equally talented and most just wanting to be part of the glamour. The underlying theme of this book is peeling the layers back on wha The story of the great love affair between playwright Tennesse Williams and Frank Merlo is one of hidden desires, public discretion, and unfinished business. It is a look at what it takes to love a genius, someone with a great talent and even greater ego in a time of great talent and secrets. This is a close look at some very famous couples and their friends, some equally talented and most just wanting to be part of the glamour. The underlying theme of this book is peeling the layers back on what the public saw and what their private life was really like. The highs of great love and creativity are balanced with bouts of depression and loss. Beautifully phrased this story is understated but full of deep emotion underneath. If you listen carefully you can hear the clicking of the typewriter keys, the clink of ice cubes in a drink too early in the day and the soft crying of a broken heart. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    A stunning meditation on love, fame and art. Castellani asks, 'Do we not play our parts every minute of every day, even when we are alone?' By toggling between memory, letters and the stage he digs into the indispensable question of how we define the past and future - and even ourselves. He left me reeling and I loved it. Read this book.
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  • Jill Meyer
    January 1, 1970
    American author Christopher Castellani has written an almost epic novel about male authors and the men who loved them. The book, "Leading Men", features real people - Tennessee Williams, Frank Merlo, Truman Capote, Jack Burns, among others - while adding to them a cast of fictional characters. (It's handy to read this book on an Ipad or other devise which makes it easy to refer to Wiki when you have a question about a character in the book.) The book is perhaps a little too long, but the relatio American author Christopher Castellani has written an almost epic novel about male authors and the men who loved them. The book, "Leading Men", features real people - Tennessee Williams, Frank Merlo, Truman Capote, Jack Burns, among others - while adding to them a cast of fictional characters. (It's handy to read this book on an Ipad or other devise which makes it easy to refer to Wiki when you have a question about a character in the book.) The book is perhaps a little too long, but the relationships between the characters need a fair amount of space to develop.Castellani has invented characters as he is writing a fictionalised version of real events. Not an easy concept to either write or read, it's the only way he can tell his story. The book takes place in the 1940's to the 1960's Tennessee Williams and his lover/aide Frank Merlo live the good life in Italy. Williams is writing during the day, while Merlo keeps Williams' life and household in running order. The two men are not necessarily faithful to each other and they do fight a fair amount, but the reader can easily discern the love between them. Their friends (and rivals) Truman Capote and Jack Burns - both with their own lovers - come in and out of the story. And added to the story as fictional characters are a Swedish mother-and-daughter, Bitte and Anya Blomgren - who meet up with Williams and Merlo in Portofino and are sort of added to their lives. Anya is based on Liv Ullmann, the Norwegian actress and director. Frank Merlo and Anya become life-long friends.But Frank Merlo, who I think is the main character in the book, does not have a long life-time. He dies of lung cancer in a New York hospital in 1963, after his relationship with "Tenn" has withered. Tennessee Williams knows and acknowledges his creative juices flourished during his 20 or so years with Frank Merlo. Still friends with Anya - who has go on to become a highly regarded actress - he writes a short play about Frank he gives to Anya. What Anya does with this not-particularly-well-written play is explored near the end of the book. Christopher Castellano's book is character-driven. A bit of a plot but what's there mainly exists to service the characters. The Frank Merlo character is a particularly well-drawn, nuanced look at a man who is comfortable with his sexuality but is uncertain about his place in his world. He may book airline tickets to Spain for Williams, but he has not-so-secret desires to become an actor/singer/dancer and find success in his own right.Castellani's book is a wonderful read, though not for every reader. Make sure you read all the reviews you can before you buy the book or take it out of the library. As always with well-written fiction, I'm left with the urge to find out as much as I can about the "real people" and their stories.
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  • R.K. Cowles
    January 1, 1970
    3 1/4 stars a Goodreads giveaway. With some of the literary characters and other real characters I would have thought it would have been more interesting. Although it had it moments and had above average writing.
  • Kalen
    January 1, 1970
    I liked this book--4 stars liked it--but something was missing for me and I can't put my finger on what. Still, solid way to start the year and I'm looking forward to digging into Castellani's backlist now.
  • Chuck Selvaggio
    January 1, 1970
    Chris Castellani's "Leading Men" beckons the reader deeply into the world with such beauty and originality that we are both in awe of his incredible talents that open so many private doors and of his abilities to risk such originality with just the right perspective to avoid overindulgence and sentimentality. I was unmoored by his characters -both historical and fictional - as they beautifully unfolded and revealed universal truths about the underbelly of fame as well as about the salvation of l Chris Castellani's "Leading Men" beckons the reader deeply into the world with such beauty and originality that we are both in awe of his incredible talents that open so many private doors and of his abilities to risk such originality with just the right perspective to avoid overindulgence and sentimentality. I was unmoored by his characters -both historical and fictional - as they beautifully unfolded and revealed universal truths about the underbelly of fame as well as about the salvation of loving hearts. At the center of the novel is the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlot, his longtime lover, a wrestling match both of love's boundlessness and the limitations that all the trappings of stardom and its inevitable insecurities bring. Whether the word "Leading" in the title is a verb or an adjective, "Leading Men" ultimately begs big questions of both its characters and of the reader, something that only very fine literature can do. This is truly a wonderful novel from a first-rate writer!
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  • Katherine Sherbrooke
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved this book. Castellani's writing is incredible-- stopping me in my tracks many times over in order to fully appreciate the nuance he brings to descriptions, whether physical or emotional. But more importantly, this is a story of the human condition. The Italian coastline and backstage look into the lives of artists like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote give the story a compelling context, but it is the human stories of Frank Morelo and Anja Bloom that will grab your heart a I absolutely loved this book. Castellani's writing is incredible-- stopping me in my tracks many times over in order to fully appreciate the nuance he brings to descriptions, whether physical or emotional. But more importantly, this is a story of the human condition. The Italian coastline and backstage look into the lives of artists like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote give the story a compelling context, but it is the human stories of Frank Morelo and Anja Bloom that will grab your heart and not let go. The book manages to encompass one short summer and a lifetime all in one gulp, the intensities that come with love, lust and potential triumph and the realities of longing, loss and the long walk through life. I just finished and feel compelled to open back up to page 1. Truly fantastic!
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  • Charlie Smith
    January 1, 1970
    Let me pre(r)amble by saying that the things I did not like about this book are things more to do with my shortcomings as a reader as opposed to the very gifted author, Christopher Castellani's problems. I take responsibility for any disappointment I felt with this, and you should not let my personal journey affect your reading of the novel --- which is deservedly praised by many, many people far smarter and more gifted than I am.I think I have read most of the books written by and about Tenness Let me pre(r)amble by saying that the things I did not like about this book are things more to do with my shortcomings as a reader as opposed to the very gifted author, Christopher Castellani's problems. I take responsibility for any disappointment I felt with this, and you should not let my personal journey affect your reading of the novel --- which is deservedly praised by many, many people far smarter and more gifted than I am.I think I have read most of the books written by and about Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Paul Bowles (and his wife, Jane), Gore Vidal, and the lives of writers and the literary milieu in which they lived and loved and thrived. One of the reasons for all that reading, in addition to my being a reading addict, is that I am of an age, born into a time when, during my youth, outside the major cities, there was almost no discussion or admission of homosexuality aside from whispers and denigrations.It was a given Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were "that way" --- but they certainly didn't discuss it openly on Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin, and while it was clear I should not want to be like them in their fey-ness and "light in the loafers" mien, they were practically the only examples of men who loved men one had. It was my experience that I mined the books about them, articles, their own words and work, to find SOME description of who I was, might be, what life I could have.So, I came to "Leading Men" with all of that baggage; And not a small part of the heft of that baggage -- then more-so than now, but still, echoes now --- was internalized homophobia. In a world where the institutions of state and church and community and family are constantly sending the message that you are a freak, a sinner, a criminal, an abomination, it is nearly (completely?) impossible to cultivate a healthy sense of self, to embrace one's natural self when told day after day after day that it is unnatural.Still, our lives were not all tragedy, or, even, much tragedy. It is as it was with Judy Garland (yes, that's how gay I am, I'm going to Garland) whose history now is often portrayed as one of drug addled sorrow and horrors. But, as her children and many of her cohort have repeatedly said, she was a blast, mostly happy, a joy to know and quite good at love.In "Leading Men", Christopher Castellani makes fictional characters of the real life Tennessee and his long-time lover, Frank Merlo who was a working class, former Marine, truck driver of hefty, muscly build; what we called "trade" then, which was straight(ish) or straight-appearing men who had gay liaisons, often for financial gain.Merlo was not with Tennessee for the money, rather, it seems from all I've read, he loved Williams, whether in a deeply romantic way or for his artistry, the magic of his talent and the world in which he got to move, or whatever combination of those things made their union a lasting one.What made that union begin and last, for me, doesn't come across here. Neither does the feeling of the times, the disconnect from the culture at large --- a distance between "us" and "them" of which we were every day aware. And, while I, too, want more books with happy endings for LGBTQIA characters, and more books informative about our community's history and its famed ones, the truth of those years is that while we had much joy, while we made a world that was safe when we were with each other, we moved in a larger world that most definitely was not safe, was not kind, and in which --- even if we managed to gain entry, like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote did --- we were there as outliers, court jesters, come look at the freaks.And that element is missing from this novel. What is not missing is a multi-layered and multi-leveled exploration of the connection between love and inspiration, the ways in which love builds and destroys, nourishes and starves. And it is a clever imagining of might-haves fit into and around the lives the real characters actually lived and the places they traveled. It is admirably constructed and its prose is often lovely.But for me, an admitted curmudgeon coming on sixty, it did not capture the patina or energy of the time, and felt more now than then. And, the fictional characters felt less than whole, devices rather than flesh and blood.Maybe I came into it expecting too much; wishing, I think, for all the secrets and inside gossip and details of their lives which I could only infer and imagine as a young man when reading about them or seeing them or their work. That, I think, is it. I already had written in my head and heart the life stories of these men, in those times, and "Leading Men" did not tell that story.Which is a shortcoming of mine, not the author's, as I said at the start. So, do not let it dissuade you from reading this novel. Particularly if you are younger, for, perhaps those of us who were alive during some of the times of the characters herein come at it from too freighted a place.
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  • Austin Broussard
    January 1, 1970
    I received an advanced copy of Leading Men as part of my job as an independent bookseller. I'm a long-time fan of Tennessee Williams—I feel the need to admit to that up front—and where art and fandom intersect the path forward forks in only two distinct ways. Adoration or revulsion? The stars on this review already indicate which path I took, I know, but I just wanted to first consider the risks taken—those always taken—when reducing the life of a mythic figure to a fictional representation. It I received an advanced copy of Leading Men as part of my job as an independent bookseller. I'm a long-time fan of Tennessee Williams—I feel the need to admit to that up front—and where art and fandom intersect the path forward forks in only two distinct ways. Adoration or revulsion? The stars on this review already indicate which path I took, I know, but I just wanted to first consider the risks taken—those always taken—when reducing the life of a mythic figure to a fictional representation. It boils down to capturing a life in character and placing that character in the right kind of story. Recognizably is quick currency for storytelling and the biopics abound, both cinematic and literary, not all of them leading readers down a path of adoration. The story might ultimately fail them. The words put in their mouths might come out sour. There might be a lost script by that author inserted into the story, and then, well, that script has got to sound like that author. And there are only two ways this can go: adoration or revulsion. But I adored this novel, and just wanted to admire the height of the tightrope. Leading Men is a story told through two key people in Tennessee's life: Frank Merlo, Tenn's fifteen-year lover and stalwart, who leads us through the world of 1950s Italy as he hustles for a place among the decade's artistic greats; and Anja Bloom, a mythic but fading film actress living in our present, who, after a figure from her past reemerges, reveals that she is in possession of a lost Tennessee Williams play—what may possibly be the last thing he ever wrote.Tenn is ultimately a supporting character, but an expertly crafted one—such tenderness, love, bitchiness, heart!—the exchanges between him and Capote warmed my big fat queeny heart. But we only experience Tenn through the views and attitudes of these two characters, Frank being the most intimate but Anja getting the last word. Ultimately the novel calls back an icon but leaves him just out of the spotlight; and it works—even for a fan like me. The novel asks you to consider Tenn as others would have, from the outside. You aren't a reader of his thoughts; you're inserted as an onlooker and admirer in an unforgiving world of literary fame. In celebrity every artist is a both genius and a real piece of work. But intimacy does come. Chapters oscillating between two time periods is becoming an increasingly common convention in contemporary storytelling, and if you've already had enough of the back-and-forth from other stories then don't look here for a respite. But a convention being frequent doesn't necessarily presuppose poor performance. The oscillations function like cuts between a wide-angle and soft-focus lens: In the past we are tight on Frank Merlo; and the present is a tracking shot of old Anja Bloom. The back-and-forth isn't used for a slow revelation of plot punchlines in a typical way (the flashback reveals he's actually her long-lost father!), but it allows for our understanding of Frank and Anja to be in an incessant state of evolution, as they are both subject in their story and character for another's world. It nuances. Much of what vivifies Frank and Anja as characters comes from their experiences of each other, and the way they press themselves against the window of the world. As spectators at this window we are asked to consider the relationship between artists and their creations, between audiences and art. The intimate drama at center stage only adds to a larger picture that asks us to consider our responsibility to art, and whether or not redemption is possible through it. You make art because of the people you love; you make art about the people you love. Representations can never be anything but fiction. But fiction is all we have.
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  • Lorri Steinbacher
    January 1, 1970
    Castellani's Leading Men is everything "biographical" fiction should be. I am a sucker for fiction with a biographical bent, maybe I am too lazy to read an in-depth biography or maybe I just prefer fiction, but for whatever reason, I will read anything fictional about a real-life subject, even if I often end up disappointed by a point by point rehashing of a subject's life with fanciful, but rarely fully fleshed out, fictional sidetrips. Leading Men is a book that brings Frank Merlo vibrantly to Castellani's Leading Men is everything "biographical" fiction should be. I am a sucker for fiction with a biographical bent, maybe I am too lazy to read an in-depth biography or maybe I just prefer fiction, but for whatever reason, I will read anything fictional about a real-life subject, even if I often end up disappointed by a point by point rehashing of a subject's life with fanciful, but rarely fully fleshed out, fictional sidetrips. Leading Men is a book that brings Frank Merlo vibrantly to life. In the process you learn about Tennessee Williams, you get a glimpse of Truman Capote, but this story is really about Frank. What is it like to be a helpmeet to a famous, and famously troubled, man? How do you inhabit that role when it is hidden in euphemism, unacknowledged by society? Frank Merlo was Williams' companion during the years when he wrote his most famous and enduring plays. That means something and yet you may never have known Frank Merlo's name if not Castellani bringing him to life. Castellani also does the nearly impossible--creating an original character around which to build Frank's story that feels real and completely of the story. You believe that Anya existed. She is not just plausible, but vital. That the true action of the book is set in gorgeous sun-drenched Italy, that you get a little frisson of rubbing elbows with the literary elite is a bonus.Recommended for readers who don't think they like biographical fiction. This might change your mind.
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  • Carlos Mock
    January 1, 1970
    Leading Men by Christopher CastellaniThis a very dull attempt to make something of the relationship between Frank Merlo and his lover Tennesse Williams that lasted from 1947 to Merlo's death in 1963. The book opens in July of 1953 when Truman Capote throws a party in Portofino, Italy. There, the mother/daughter duo Bitte/Anja Blongren become part of the story. On the writer's note at the end of the book, the author states: "Ironically, it was only after the entirely fictional Anja entered the na Leading Men by Christopher CastellaniThis a very dull attempt to make something of the relationship between Frank Merlo and his lover Tennesse Williams that lasted from 1947 to Merlo's death in 1963. The book opens in July of 1953 when Truman Capote throws a party in Portofino, Italy. There, the mother/daughter duo Bitte/Anja Blongren become part of the story. On the writer's note at the end of the book, the author states: "Ironically, it was only after the entirely fictional Anja entered the narrative that the plot began to take shape..." However, it does not. The plot is a mess. There are at least four timelines: 1953, 1963--Frank's death, 1983, and the present. Chapters run back and forth without any rhyme or reason. The narration is a somewhat third person point of view which leaves the reader without a voice to concentrate on. The plot is very boring-- it's as if nothing happens at all. The characters themselves are one dimensional--I never cared for any of them.Once again, I was swayed by the New York Times to buy a book. Once again, I was very disappointed with their recommendation. I strongly recommend you stay away from this book--for that matter stay away from anything the New York Times recommends!
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a beautifully written book, full of lush prose and very vivid scenes. I appreciated it immensely, but the story was too poignant for me to enjoy.This novel featuring Tennessee Williams and his lover, Frank Merlo, was so filled with loss and longing that I found myself concentrating too much on the painful relationship, perhaps not allowing myself to be open to other aspects of their story. Merlo was presented as a man made for friendship, and for love. His generosity of spirit and accept This is a beautifully written book, full of lush prose and very vivid scenes. I appreciated it immensely, but the story was too poignant for me to enjoy.This novel featuring Tennessee Williams and his lover, Frank Merlo, was so filled with loss and longing that I found myself concentrating too much on the painful relationship, perhaps not allowing myself to be open to other aspects of their story. Merlo was presented as a man made for friendship, and for love. His generosity of spirit and acceptance of others made it painful for me to read a story that (for me) centered around how diminished he felt all the time. A second relationship featured in the book, that of Frank Merlo and a fictional actress friend, Anja Bloom, was more nuanced, less resolved, and for that reason a bit more interesting to me. It was also less transactional, so I felt more comfortable with it.Castellani shed light on the gay lifestyle in the 1950's, but more than that, it was a reflection on the complexity of love and the delicate balance of power in relationships.
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  • Jim
    January 1, 1970
    Easy and enjoyable read, the book transitions easily between three distinct periods in the characters' lives without losing the plot. The ending really clinched it for me, although I felt like there were a few things lacking:1. There's a play within a play portion of the book, but you never get the audience reaction to the performance2. The female lead's familial relationships are left very up in the air, including with both parents and some aunts. This could have been purposeful to give her mor Easy and enjoyable read, the book transitions easily between three distinct periods in the characters' lives without losing the plot. The ending really clinched it for me, although I felt like there were a few things lacking:1. There's a play within a play portion of the book, but you never get the audience reaction to the performance2. The female lead's familial relationships are left very up in the air, including with both parents and some aunts. This could have been purposeful to give her more of an independent personality, but the impression I had was that her parental relationships shaped the character a lot in ways that weren't fully fleshed outThat being said, the above doesn't really detract from the story, and learning that much of the novel is based in fact and drawn from firsthand accounts made it even more enjoyable for me.
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  • Michelle Arredondo
    January 1, 1970
    Historical fiction beautifully written. A captivating story with all the right characters to move this book along and deliver a wonderful ending. 1950's and 60's different times..different places..two men, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo...dynamic love affair...challenges that are both beautiful and heartbreaking. Practically every line in this book whisked me away into a time I have never been and have only imagined. Wax poetic....so many exquisite quotes. There are so many great reviews for Historical fiction beautifully written. A captivating story with all the right characters to move this book along and deliver a wonderful ending. 1950's and 60's different times..different places..two men, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo...dynamic love affair...challenges that are both beautiful and heartbreaking. Practically every line in this book whisked me away into a time I have never been and have only imagined. Wax poetic....so many exquisite quotes. There are so many great reviews for this book...and it deserves every single one of them. A fantastic read that never leaves you....Highly recommend.Thanks to goodreads, author Christopher Castellani, and to Viking Press for my free copy of this book won via giveaway. I received. I read. I reviewed this book honestly and voluntarily.
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  • Cheryl D
    January 1, 1970
    I wasn't sure what to think when I opened the package and then read the jacket. My first thought "another one of this truth/fiction historical novels...ho hum" Ho Hum couldn't begin to describe this superbly written story which gives an inkling into the lives of writing royalty. Beautifully crafted characters and smooth as silk writing make this book one that you will savor as you slowly discover the nuances of each of the main characters. This is a keeper on my "permanent" bookshelf."I received I wasn't sure what to think when I opened the package and then read the jacket. My first thought "another one of this truth/fiction historical novels...ho hum" Ho Hum couldn't begin to describe this superbly written story which gives an inkling into the lives of writing royalty. Beautifully crafted characters and smooth as silk writing make this book one that you will savor as you slowly discover the nuances of each of the main characters. This is a keeper on my "permanent" bookshelf."I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway contest. Thanks Goodreads for the pleasure spent devouring the pages of this lovely novel!"
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  • Kathleen Gray
    January 1, 1970
    What a sad story this is. Focused on Frank Merlo and Anja Bloom, it's a tale of love denied, shunned, and morphed told over three time periods. Merlo was the lover of Tennessee Williams for 15 year and yet when Merlo needed him most, Tenn was unable to come through for him. This nicely blends real characters with the imagined- Anja, a mysterious actress who met them in post-War Italy. She has the only copy of an unpublished Williams play and a raft of secrets. This is wonderfully written and evo What a sad story this is. Focused on Frank Merlo and Anja Bloom, it's a tale of love denied, shunned, and morphed told over three time periods. Merlo was the lover of Tennessee Williams for 15 year and yet when Merlo needed him most, Tenn was unable to come through for him. This nicely blends real characters with the imagined- Anja, a mysterious actress who met them in post-War Italy. She has the only copy of an unpublished Williams play and a raft of secrets. This is wonderfully written and evocative. It's also unique in this genre of historical fiction. Williams is not the star of this novel but rather a catalyst for the others. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC.
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  • Kelly Ford
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story to get lost in and savor. I’d been jonesing for this one since I heard Chris read an excerpt a couple years ago. That cover. This description: “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.” Heck yeah. Hit me with some old I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story to get lost in and savor. I’d been jonesing for this one since I heard Chris read an excerpt a couple years ago. That cover. This description: “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.” Heck yeah. Hit me with some old school Hollywood and literary glam and heartbreak. All the stars.
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  • James Grissom
    January 1, 1970
    Having been with Tennessee Williams, watching him reach for safety in words, hearing him deplore his inability to maintain relationships with people (but heartily with work and chemicals), I can say that Christopher Castellani has perfectly captured this lovely, brilliant man in his novel LEADING MEN. Castellani has done more than that, however--he has revealed the universal longing we all have to belong and to matter, and he has, through imagination and empathy, let us know what was in the hear Having been with Tennessee Williams, watching him reach for safety in words, hearing him deplore his inability to maintain relationships with people (but heartily with work and chemicals), I can say that Christopher Castellani has perfectly captured this lovely, brilliant man in his novel LEADING MEN. Castellani has done more than that, however--he has revealed the universal longing we all have to belong and to matter, and he has, through imagination and empathy, let us know what was in the hearts of some complicated men to whom we owe much. We now owe much to Christopher Castellani.
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