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 relationships between the characters need a fair amount of space to develop.
Castellani has invented characters as he is writing a fictionalised version of real events. Not an easy concept to either write or read, it's the only way he can tell his story. The book takes place in the 1940's to the 1960's Tennessee Williams and his lover/aide Frank Merlo live the good life in Italy. Williams is writing during the day, while Merlo keeps Williams' life and household in running order. The two men are not necessarily faithful to each other and they do fight a fair amount, but the reader can easily discern the love between them. Their friends (and rivals) Truman Capote and Jack Burns - both with their own lovers - come in and out of the story. And added to the story as fictional characters are a Swedish mother-and-daughter, Bitte and Anya Blomgren - who meet up with Williams and Merlo in Portofino and are sort of added to their lives. Anya is based on Liv Ullmann, the Norwegian actress and director. Frank Merlo and Anya become life-long friends.
But Frank Merlo, who I think is the main character in the book, does not have a long life-time. He dies of lung cancer in a New York hospital in 1963, after his relationship with "Tenn" has withered. Tennessee Williams knows and acknowledges his creative juices flourished during his 20 or so years with Frank Merlo. Still friends with Anya - who has go on to become a highly regarded actress - he writes a short play about Frank he gives to Anya. What Anya does with this not-particularly-well-written play is explored near the end of the book.
Christopher Castellano's book is character-driven. A bit of a plot but what's there mainly exists to service the characters. The Frank Merlo character is a particularly well-drawn, nuanced look at a man who is comfortable with his sexuality but is uncertain about his place in his world. He may book airline tickets to Spain for Williams, but he has not-so-secret desires to become an actor/singer/dancer and find success in his own right.
Castellani's book is a wonderful read, though not for every reader. Make sure you read all the reviews you can before you buy the book or take it out of the library. As always with well-written fiction, I'm left with the urge to find out as much as I can about the "real people" and their stories.