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Leading Men

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  510 ratings  ·  157 reviews
An expansive yet intimate story of desire, artistic ambition, and fidelity, set in the glamorous literary and film 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 encount
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Viking
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  510 ratings  ·  157 reviews

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Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
This one held no appeal to me. I tried to get into it but gave up at the 20% point.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 08, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"I kept waiting to feel something," Trevor says. "For the first few pages, I almost did, but then, as it went on and on, I just wanted the guy to shut up, and die already. The whole thing was so self-indulgent."
p. 223

1.5, rounded down.

This had so much potential, that my low rating is more from a feeling of major disappointment than anything else. It is an utter failure on almost every level, with major boredom being the most egregious of its sins. It isn't well-written enough to qualify as liter
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first perfect book of 2019. It's been awhile since I've read a book I just simply could not put down. Christopher Castellani weaves pure magic with Leading Men, historical fiction about the romantic relationship between playwright Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. Their party also includes a fictitious actress named Anja Bloom, the author John Horne Burns, his lover Sandro, and in present day, Sandro's grandson and his boyfriend who inspire Anja to mount Williams' final one-act in Provincet ...more
Bill Kupersmith
Mar 01, 2019 added it
Shelves: dnf
What self-centred bores! Bailed out at 1/3 & still felt endless.
Crystal King
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Whitney Scharer
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Upon finishing this novel, I felt full. A kind of full that I wouldn't have expected while reading the first half. It snuck up on me. I felt like I had been eating a ten course meal without realizing it. While there is much about this novel that is universal, the story stays squarely in its lane. At its heart, this novel is about how we forge relationships between lovers and parents and children and colleagues and friends.

The novel alternates between the 1950s and decades in the future. My firs
Leah DeCesare
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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)
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
"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
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booktopia-2019
If I was a writer I would write historical fiction….I’m not saying it’s easy but the raw material is already there for you. You research the heck out of something (or someone) that already interests you, then let your imagination run wild, then go back and meticulously check all the available facts to make sure what you’ve written COULD have happened. What could be more fun?

By all accounts Tennessee Williams was a larger than life person and as the author has pointed out in interviews, already w
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more


I hate to admit it, but I decided to give up. Yes, I'm over 50% and I'm still struggling with this book. Hadn't it been amazing Edoardo Ballerini who did actually a great job as narrator, I would have given up earlier, but even his flawless narrating couldn't make this book better (for me).

The author too did a great job, considering the research for this book, and I appreciate the decision to devote his novel to a heartbreaking story about the burdens of fame and the complex negotiations of
Dec 08, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Book Club: Caellum's selection

This book had a great premise but I found it lacking depth as well as lacking in emotive language which challenged my connection. I was more enveloped in the present day storyline than I was in the narrative of Portofino 1953 and didn't gel with the characters like I feel I should have. I found that they lacked a certain substance which irritated me. I feel proud that I managed to finish this book in all honesty.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Exquisitely written but dull at times.
Jill Meyer
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Robert Barto
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
I thought the novel would be more interesting because it was about Tennessee Williams and his partner, Frank Merlo. Too much of the novel concentrated on a fictitious actress, based on Liv Ullmann, and there was very little about Williams' plays and I found the book boring in certain parts and not really one of those novels that I could not put down.
Carlos Mock
Feb 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Leading Men by Christopher Castellani

This 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
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Rob Medley
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoy historical fiction, and Leading Men did not disappoint. A masterful novel written by the very talented Christopher Castellani. The prose is striking from the opening paragraphs to the conclusion, as it weaves a story between fictional characters and the real lives of Tennessee Williams, his long time lover Frank Merlo, Truman Capote and the little known writer, John Horne Burns.

A large part of the novel focuses on Frank Merlo and his struggles with his own identity. When people ask Fran
Michael McEvoy
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I knew little about Tennessee Williams aside from him being the playwright of A Streetcar Named Desire. Leading Men explores the relationship between Tennessee and his lover, Frank Merlo during their time in Italy and subsequent years together. The story is told over numerous time periods and with different narrators.
Most enjoyable for me was the story of Anja, an aspiring actress who eventually finds great success, and comes to possess Tennessee’s final play (written specifically for her). Her
Sue Jackson
Immersive novel based on the real-life partner of Tennessee Williams for 15 years, Frank Merlo, and a summer weekend they spent in Portofino in the 1950's - engaging and intriguing. Read my full review and listen to a sample of the audio here:
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booktopia-2019
Christopher Castellani transports us to Italy in the 1950s where we meet Frank Merlo. Through Frank's eyes we see his love affair with Tennessee Williams and his circle of friends including Anja, an aspiring Swedish actress who I fell in love with. There are parties with Truman Capote and Jack another lesser known author. I could visualize every scene this book. Cannot wait to meet this author in May!
Apr 15, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didnt-finish
I gave this book 50 pages plus a couple to get to the end of the chapter. I think this book is meant for people who already know a lot about the characters. I had no idea who any of them were and kept waiting for some kind of introduction to help me learn more. None ever came. Further, the book jumped immediately into parties and travels and interactions with other people that I knew nothing about. I had thought the night referenced in the summary would be something thrilling, but I couldn't fig ...more
Jeanne Blasberg
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Kim McGee
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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Christopher Castellani is the son of Italian immigrants and a native of Wilmington, Delaware. He lives in Boston, where he is the artistic director of Grub Street, one of the country's leading independent creative writing centers. He is the author of three novels: All This Talk of Love (2013) -- a New York Times Editors' Choice -- A Kiss from Maddalena (2003)--winner of the Massachusetts Book Awar ...more
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