The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.
At first I believed the girl to be an apparition. A ghost. She rose from the crowd in the auditorium and walked to the microphone.
I love a sweeping family drama so The Last Romantics had the potential to be a new favourite. Unfortunately, it did not quite work out that way. The first half of this novel was brilliant- I was really in to it and intrigued by the story. The second half is where it started to fall apart a little bit for me. Before we get in to that I will talk about this things that I very much enjoyed about The Last Romantics.
The first half where the siblings are children was beautiful and heartbreaking. It was interesting to see how each of the characters changed and coped during the “pause”. I loved their interactions and how they looked out for one another in different ways.
The writing throughout the entire book is gorgeous. I heard that it took that author many years to write this novel and that shows through her prose. There are so many quotable lines that stuck with me. I recently shared some of them in a blog post about my favourite quotes. I can not resist sharing a few more here:
And yet, And yet! We believe in love because we want to believe in it. Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles? The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it. Because when the lights go out and we sit waiting in the dark, what do our fingers seek? Who do we reach for?
No, it is about real love, true love. Imperfect, wretched, weak love. No fairy tales, no poetry. It is about the negotiations we undertake with ourselves in the name of love. Every day we struggle to decide what to give away and what to keep, but every day we make that calculation and we live with the results. This then is the true lesson: there is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naïve believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it.
Another thing that I think the author did well was showing the complicated relationships between adult siblings. People grow up and move away, they come in to their own and they may no longer have anything in common with their siblings- it can be difficult to navigate these relationships. Conklin highlights this and I thought it was interesting to read.
I also loved the flashes to the future where our narrator is an old woman living in what seems to be a dystopian world. It was original and thought it was an interesting element. These sections are vague and we never truly get an explanation as to what is going on but I loved it!
Now we come to the second half. I can not say too much without spoiling the book for you so I will keep it very vague. Something happens in the middle of the book (which you see coming because the author strongly hints to it throughout the story) and the characters spend the rest of the book looking for a certain character. I didn’t quite understand their motivations or really care? I don’t know why! For that reason, the story began to drag for me. That said, the final chapter is excellent and made the journey worth it.
My other gripe was with the perspective. We only get the perspective of one character (which I am fine with) but there were some sections that were told in the third person but as if our narrator was there even though they weren’t. You would have to read it to understand what I am talking about, and it just didn’t flow well for me.
Yes, if family dramas appeal to you and you go in to it with the right expectations. The writing is too beautiful to pass up and I think Conklin is a master at writing unlikable but real characters.
Have you read The Last Romantics? What did you think?!
Please recommend me your favourite family drama- book, TV, or movie!
Thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for sending me an eARC of The Last Romantics in exchange for an honest review.