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Leading Men

Christopher Castellani ’94’s fourth novel, Leading Men (Viking), takes as its subject the real-life love story of Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo.

Castellani first encountered Merlo more than 20 years ago in a memoir about Williams picked up in Wilmington, Del. “I remember standing in the aisle of the store reading about this working-class gay Italian guy from New Jersey who’d been the lover of Tennessee Williams, and who died at 40 after days of waiting for one last visit from the great writer with whom he’d spent most of his adult life,” he writes.

“There I was, a 25-year- old working-class gay Italian guy from Delaware with dreams of being a writer myself, feeling an instant kinship—which eventually became an obsession—with both men: the neurotic and ambitious Tenn and the steadfast and searching Frank.”

Leading Men opens at a sparkling party in Portofino, Italy, hosted by Truman Capote, ushering the reader into Williams and Merlo’s world of “women in electric dresses, men in monkey suits and bow ties made of white silk. Cognac, cigars, wine. The sky turquoise even when it was grey.”

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner writes that Castellani’s novel “casts a spell right from the start.”

“This writer’s scenes glitter,” Garner writes, “and they have a strong sexual pulse.”