In 1953, at a party organized by the writer Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, the playwright Tennessee Williams and her lover Frank Merlo meet the Swedish Anja Blomgren, young actress in the making, soon famous under the name of Bloom. “Life had already hardened them all, and perhaps that was what had attracted them to each other, which had enabled them to recognize each other …”
This decisive meeting serves as a starting point for the fourth novel by Bostonian Christopher Castellani, his first translated into French: Blue devils ((Leading Men in English). Halfway between the real and the imaginary, the documentary and the fantasy, the book, where three destinies intertwine magnificently for more than half a century, is to be classified as a ray of historical fiction. The author invests with all the rigor that is required, but above all showing an exquisite sensitivity, this kind where one pursues the truth through the invention.
Tenn, Frank and Anja come and go, attract and repel, get lost and find each other, love and betray each other. Around the trinity gravitate many “real” characters, such as the writer John Horne Burns, the actress Anna Magnani or even the director Luchino Visconti, and other imaginaries, like Sandro, the veterinarian with mysterious intentions, and his son Sandrino , who will manage to convince Anja, aging, to get out of her seclusion.
Deploying from the 1950s to the 2010s, their lives are made up of dramatic moments, some tragic, like the violent assault by a group of rabid children, the very one that will nourish the writing of Suddenly last summer, and other frankly comical ones, like those surrounding the laborious staging ofLet’s call it joy, an original play by the late playwright.
As just to translate the exaltation of pure moments of happiness as the throbbing suffering of dreams constantly shattered, the novel reveals the pieces of the puzzle with admirable mastery, skillfully juxtaposing eras and continents, beings and places, shadows and the lights. There is much talk of the challenges of love and friendship, the dizzying notion of loyalty, but also the challenges of creation, starting with the mysterious cogs of inspiration.
From 1947 to 1963, when Tennessee Williams gave his most important plays, Frank Marlo lived for better and for worse in the shadow of the great playwright. In a broad form, with a prose carried by a charming style, an undeniable breath, Christopher Castellani exposes the link between the two men in all its complexity and delicately reveals the unspoken.
“They still didn’t have a name for the nature of their long relationship, these fifteen years – a lifetime! – trips, projects, nightingales and careful public displays of affection. Maybe they never would. Perhaps they were the inventors. “