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Leading men
2019
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Summary
"Blazing . . . casts a spell right from the start." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A timeless and heartbreaking love story." --Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere

"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.
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Booklist Review
Inspired by the real-life relationship between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, Castellani's (All This Talk of Love, 2013) fourth novel opens in Portofino, 1953. At a party thrown by Truman Capote, Tenn and Frank meet intriguing young Anja. They convince her to follow them back to Rome, where they'll set her on the path to becoming a star. Castellani unravels three threads: those auspicious, sun-soaked days in Italy; Frank in a Manhattan cancer ward, 10 years later; and present-day Anja, a reclusive widow hiding from her fame. Characterizations and mood drive this novel. While historical details about Tenn, his work, and his world bolster the story, it primarily belongs to Frank: a life preserver in person form, who never quite knows when to put his own interests first. When a new friend reminds Anja of her past life, she, like the author, grows determined to bring her old friends to life through art. 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 Copyright 2018 Booklist
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