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.
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.
Marianne Leone’s Ma is in many senses a larger-than-life character, one who might be capable, even from the afterlife, of shattering expectations. Born on a farm in Italy, Linda finds her way to the United States under dark circumstances, having escaped a forced marriage to a much older man, and marries a good Italian boy. She never has full command of English, especially when questioned by authorities, and when she is suddenly widowed with three young children, she has few options. To her daughter’s horror and misery, she becomes the school lunch lady.
Ma Speaks Up is a record of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, with the wrong family, in the wrong religion. Though Marianne’s girlhood is flooded with shame, it’s equally packed with adventure, love, great cooking, and, above all, humor. The extremely premature birth of Marianne’s beloved son, Jesse, bonds mother and daughter in ways she couldn’t have imagined. The stories she tells will speak to anyone who has struggled with outsider status in any form and, of course, to mothers and their blemished, cherished girls.
Marianne Leone is an actress, screenwriter and essayist. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Post Road, Bark Magazine, Coastal Living and WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog. Her memoir, Jesse: A Mother’s Story of Grief, Grace, and Everyday Bliss, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. Leone had a recurring role on HBO’s hit show, “The Sopranos” as Joanne Moltisanti, Christopher’s mother. She has also appeared in films by David O. Russell, Larry David, John Sayles, and Martin Scorsese. She is married to the award-winning actor Chris Cooper.
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.