ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest opinion.
Poetic and at moments heartbreaking, Tara Conklin’s sophomore offering tackles the love between siblings in The Last Romantics.
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.
I’m not much for family sagas. Truthfully, I try to avoid them as much as possible because they either (a) bore me, or (b) too complicated to be believable. Most of the time, it’s a combination of the two for me. So I don’t know why I picked this book up, but whatever it was, I’m glad it made me click on that request button.
The Last Romantics was an emotional read – heartbreaking and illuminating both at the same time. It’s a story that tackles love, not the romantic kind despite the title, but the one shared between siblings.
Told from the point of view of poet Fiona Skinner, The Last Romantics follows the Skinner siblings: Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona. The lives of the four children drastically changes when their father suffers a heart attack, falling dead on the floor of his dental clinic in the summer of 1981. This one incident will ripple throughout their lives, changing each young child and affecting the adults they eventually will become.
The Last Romantics was a well-written, evocative story, and I enjoyed reading it. Sure, there were parts of it that felt off, things that didn’t make much sense: Fiona somehow knowing and then narrating her sisters’ and brother’s thoughts, ones they didn’t share with her; the use of the never-explained, partially-integrated future world devastated by climate change which, in hindsight, felt more and more like a ploy to explain Fiona’s longevity. Normally, these illogical bits would have been enough for me to put down any book, but what made me stuck through with this one were the characters.
Conklin drew completely realized characters, fleshed out and realistic, starting from her main character Fiona right down to the supporting casts. You can just imagine the other Skinner siblings doing their own stuff, living their own lives even if they aren’t on the page with Fiona, and that is a feat to pull off.
Great characters and writing aside though, what I loved the most about this book is how it explored sibling relationships. This book is so full of emotions, all throughout the story you’ll read about the ups and downs of the Skinner sibings much like how it is in real life. It was realistic how Conklin portrayed the siblings’ relationship, developing it and letting it evolved as the four Skinners grow older.
The Last Romantics made me think about my own siblings and there were definitely times when I saw a bit of myself in the characters. Much as I loved all of the characters though, I think I’m most partial to Renee probably because we’re both firstborns and we kind of have to grow up faster than our peers.
Overall, The Last Romantics was a terrific contemporary family drama. It was a beautiful exploration of the strong connections between siblings, and just how much each could and would do for one another. I definitely recommend this to contemporary lovers who love a heavy dosing of drama in their reading.
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About the Author:
TARA CONKLIN was born on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and raised in Stockbridge, Massachussetts. She is a graduate of Yale University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and New York University School of Law. A joint US-UK citizen, Tara now lives in Seattle. Her first novel, The House Girl, was a NYT bestseller, #1 IndieNext pick and Target book club pick.