Book Reviews

The Blue Star by Robert Ferro at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Historical / Recent (1980s) / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 30-July-2020

Book Blurb

Two heroes, reflective Peter and Byronic Chase, indulge their youthful appetites in Florence. Over the next 20 years their paths diverge and reconverge. Chase marries into the Italian aristocracy and Peter pursues his passion for Lorenzo, a beautiful young Florentine. The past impinges on the present as the story of Chase’s ancestor, Orvil Starkweather, is revealed – the secrets of his life sounding a counterpoint to Chase’s. New York City’s Central Park and the imposing figure of designer Frederick Law Olmsted provide a mysterious connection to Chase’s life. The story of the two men unfolds in Florence and New York exposing the unimagined and startling connection with the past, and taking them finally on a fateful cruise up the Nile aboard the luxury yacht the Blue Star.



First edition published by Dutton Books, April 1985. This new edition contains a 2020 foreword by Andrew Holleran.


Book Review

This is a rather difficult book to review. It was an interesting and intriguing read, and I really liked it a lot, not least because large parts of it are set in one of my favorite towns on earth, stunningly beautiful Florence. But the novel consists of many developments and twists, many levels and layers, which makes it so hard to even try to summarize the plot(s) with a modicum of accuracy (there are two main plots that are loosely related and more or less interwoven). Moreover, the most important feature of ‘The Blut Star’ is less a linear plot (or two) than the perfect depiction of places at a certain time, of ambiences, of atmospheres, so it is not an easy task to grasp exactly what I liked about the book. Everything lies within the strong evocative power of the words the author has chosen.

The first storyline starts in the early sixties. The first-person narrator Peter, a twenty-one-year-old all-American boy, decides he wants to become a writer. He chooses to settle down in Florence, Italy, to work on his first novel, moving into the Pensione Bardolini, which is owned and run by a resolute woman called Zá-Zá. Instead of writing, however, he is drawn in by the atmosphere and the timeless beauty of the city as well as by the handsomeness of the Italian men. Florence by night constitutes the key moment that allows Peter to realize he is gay. Then model-handsome Chase Walker arrives in the Pensione. He is gay as well, and openly so. The two young men soon strike an honest friendship and start cruising the streets together in search of new casual sex encounters, carefree and unquestioning“[w]hen we are young the impossibility of what we want does not occur to us. We place ourselves in the way of a thing happening and assume it will happen. The great talent of youth is this unencumbered expectation”, as the author so aptly writes.

One day they call on a family acquaintance of Chase’s, the flamboyantly gay Count Niccolo Virgiliano, in his sixties already, who lives in a little palace next to the Palazzo Pitti, with a view over the Giardino di Boboli. When they are invited to Virgiliano’s country estate, the count’s mother proposes a complicated and harebrained scheme where Virgiliano would legally adopt Chase before marrying him off to his cousin, a young Italian princess. The only thing they ask of Chase is to produce an heir in order to perpetuate the Virgiliano family name. Chase accepts, not least because he is offered an important amount of money. He goes through with the required proceedings, and when his son is born, he returns to New York to start a botanical career. Peter is finally forced to return to the US too, having run out of money. The night before his departure, he is seduced by Zá-Zá’s sixteen-year-old nephew Lorenzo, as beautiful as a character painted by Caravaggio. They spend a night of passion together that will influence the rest of Peter’s life. He spends fifteen years dreaming of and yearning for his physically perfect Italian lover until, in his thirties, he returns to Florence… and stumbles upon Lorenzo again. The latter is married and father of two children, but turns out very much in love with Peter, too. Some more twists and schemes lead to a trip to Egypt aboard a luxury yacht purchased by Chase’s estranged but obscenely rich wife. The guests include Chase, his teenaged son, Virgiliano, Peter, and Lorenzo.

The second storyline took me back the 1860s and the planning and construction of Central Park. The main characters of this—I cannot even say subplot, it’s rather a second main plot of sorts, a parallel plot even; so, the main characters of this plot are the (historical) landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted on one hand, one of the commissioners, fictional Orvil Starkweather, who turns out to be Chase’s great-great-grandfather and was Grand Master of the New York Lodges of the Freemason at that time, on the other hand. This plot tells the story of Starkweather’s ambitious plan to secretly and illegally add a subterranean Masonic Temple underneath the Stable and Carriage House. I have to admit that at first that second plot came as a bit of a surprise, thrown in as it was in the midst of Peter’s and Chase’s Florentine tribulations. Almost till the end I couldn’t make out any discernible, logical link with the rest of the story; all I found was the rather tenuous connection to Chase by means of that affiliation with Starkweather—far-fetched and awkward, or so it felt. But that didn’t bother me; the author, I thought, had provided me with two stories for the price of one.

And yet. I’ve been thinking about the two plots quite a lot and cannot shake off the feeling, which I’m afraid I would be incapable of aptly putting into words, that there’s a stronger link between the two plots. Maybe it’s the idea of initiation, or of the stubborn pursuit of a dream, a chimera, however silly, however unnecessary, however vague it might seem. Those are two strands that run through the two stories. The longish stay in Florence as an initiation rite for Peter; the secret building of the new Masonic temple as a ritualistic initiation for both Olmsted and Starkweather? The temple as Starkweather’s all-consuming pipe dream just as (imagined and imaginary) Lorenzo would be Peter’s? Whatever it was, it worked for me. Because I can only recommend this novel. Ferro has an appealing way with words (I’ve already mentioned his evocative power as a storyteller) and creates wonderful atmospheric scenes that entranced me. His writing is effortless, erudite without being pedantic, sometimes ornate, sometimes crisp and straightforward, in perfectly paced alternations. The characters, even though I couldn’t always see the reasonings and reasons behind their actions (as if they were real persons in real life, right?), were endearing and intriguing. Peter found and founded his church in unobtainable Lorenzo (what a beautiful, Romeo-and-Juliet-ish love story!); Chase, as his name suggests, chased after something he could never obtain either—an idealized form of love that can never exist in real life.

Robert Ferro has unfortunately only written three other books before his untimely death, but these three books are already on my ever-growing list of books to be read. His is, no mistake, a great name in literature.


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Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 272 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 14-July-2020
Price $5.95 ebook, $16.95 paperback
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