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.
Lyrical, restrained, and affecting. This is a book to savour.
'Audacious...[Castellani's] novel not only exults in the historical synchronicities and proximities he has discovered but catches the reader up in its rapture.
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.
Touching... Castellani knows his people... and he knows this world.
Blazing... Casts a spell right from the start... Vividly reimagines the relationship between Williams and Frank Merlo, and offers intricate thoughts about the nature of fidelity, the artistic impulse, and estrangement . . . [Castellani's] scenes glitter . . . This book is a kind of poem in praise of pleasure. Its author knows a great deal about life; better, he knows how to express what he knows. But this is an alert, serious, sweeping novel. To hold it in your hands is like holding, to crib a line from Castellani, a front-row opera ticket.
Movie stars in Italy, a longtime affair, and a missing Tennessee Williams play - what more could you want? Christopher Castellani's lush newest novel recreates the glamour of the 1950s while deftly portraying a timeless and heartbreaking love story.
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.
Gorgeous and sweeping... A sumptuous work of historical fiction... The author describes the sights, sounds, cruising zones, and violent surprises of 1950s Italy so deftly, the novel could stand in for a vacation; but also manages to capture the lightning of these massive artistic figures on the page with such force, that it feels as if you have tiptoed around Williams's desk in Rome while he was busy writing a masterpiece.
Spectacular... Castellani's novel hits the trifecta of being moving, beautifully written, and a bona fide page-turner. This is a wonderful examination of artists and the people who love them and change their work in large and imperceptible ways.
A seductive, steamy novel of Tennessee Williams and his lover... Castellani's quiet portrayal of Merlo has a deep, aching appeal... [His] prose has a beguiling lilt and color, whether he's evoking his characters' evasive or erratic emotions, or conjuring the far-flung locales where these globe-hoppers touch down.
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.
Dazzling... [Castellani writes] with an evocative precision that historical fiction often merely aspires to.
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.