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February 2019 Fiction: Literary

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Leading Men
A Novel
9780525559054 Hardcover English General Trade FICTION / Literary Feb 12, 2019
$36.00 CAD
Active 6.2 x 9.25 x 1.16 in | 1.25 lb 368 pages Viking
“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.

Story Locale: Italy, Boston

AN UNTOLD STORY: Few people are aware that Tennessee Williams had a longtime partner, let alone that Frank Merlo was a working class bisexual man from New Jersey; it was during the period of their relationship that Williams wrote all of his truly great plays.

BOOK CLUB APPEAL: Leading Men touches on themes that will interest reading groups, from co-dependence and same-sex relationships to the nature of “greatness” in artists.

A HUGE BREAKTHROUGH: Castellani earlier wrote a trilogy of well-received novels about a working-class Italian-American immigrant family, but this new novel is a big step forward.

HITS A SWEET SPOT BETWEEN LITERARY AND COMMERCIAL: Both sophisticated and accessible, Leading Men is the kind of fiction that cuts across a wide swath of readers.

BELOVED IN THE LITERARY COMMUNITY: As the Artistic Director of Grub Street, one of the country’s leading creative writing centers, Castellani has won the admiration of a wide range of writers, editors, publishers and agents, many of whom will lend support to his novel.

Christopher Castellani is the author of three previous novels (the trilogy A Kiss from Maddalena, The Saint of Lost Things, and All This Talk of Love) and The Art of Perspective, a book of essays on the craft of fiction. He is the son of Italian immigrants, a Guggenheim fellow, and the artistic director of GrubStreet, one of the country’s leading creative writing centers. He lives in Boston.

Author Residence: Boston, MA

Marketing: Online advertising

Social Media and Online Promotion

Library Promotions / Twitter / Instagram

Publicity: Author events

Print and online reviews and features

National radio interviews

Author Website:

Author Social Media: Twitter & Instagram: @CDCastellani

Praise for Leading Men:

“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.”—The New York Times

“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.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“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 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

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