Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

There are events in life that shape people, forge them, become an integral piece of who they are. Sometimes these events are seemingly insignificant and other times they are clearly big, life-changing occasions. In Tara Conklin's newest novel, The Last Romantics, two of these huge, defining events happen back to back, leading inexorably toward an outcome and an ending that feels fated, determined by the past and written from the beginning.

Ellis Skinner was 34 when he died suddenly, leaving behind 4 children, ranging in age from 11 to 4, and a wife who had no idea of the dismal state of their finances until her dentist husband is gone. Mother Noni falls into an all consuming depression that lasts for years and that the children call The Pause, during which they must fend for themselves, running a little feral and solidifying each of them into the person she and he will grow to be as adults. Renee is the oldest, driven to take on the responsibility of her younger siblings, taking care of others before herself. Eight year old Caroline is the worrier, leaning into family, although not to her own family but to the Duffy crew the Skinner kids meet that first summer. Seven year old Joe is the golden child, beloved by everyone but whose troubles are either hidden, ignored, or explained away, leaving him searching for what he's missing, first through baseball and then through alcohol. And four year old Fiona, the baby of the family is the observer, coming to hold the family story close and finally to record it through her poetry, to give it voice. The children persevere and survive and eventually Noni comes out of her crushing depression but the siblings always wonder about her emotional resiliency and protect her from any unpleasantness until there is no way to protect her or their own hearts.

The story is framed, and occasionally interrupted, by celebrated poet Fiona Skinner at a reading in 2079, answering audience questions, one of which leads her to tell her family's story, continuing on even during a power outage that seems to stretch on and become slightly sinister. Fiona, now 102 years old and quite famous, narrates the majority of the story in the first person, slowly revealing long held secrets and highlighting the enduring bond that grew between the four Skinner siblings in the aftermath of their father's death and their mother's retreat. The narration occasionally shifts to third person when Conklin wants to show the reader a closer look at what is going on with the other three siblings that Fiona could not have known. The shifts are smooth but sometimes they are so subtle, it takes the reader a minute to adjust to the fact that the focus has changed.

The sibling relationships are the anchor of this novel. They are messy and sometimes frayed, but the strength of the Skinners' history with each other keeps them forever tethered no matter how far they may roam. The conceit of the future setting seems unnecessary as there are only small hints of the reality of life in 2079; the real story is that of Fiona's childhood into adulthood, perhaps even as far as middle age.  The beginning is a little slow but the occasional allusions to further tragedy will keep the reader engaged in the story and invested in these flawed but oh so real feeling siblings. The end comes quickly, even as events come fast and furious, each sibling's life wrapped up in just a few sentences once Fiona has revealed what she has lived with for so long.  Each character is scarred, perhaps not visibly like two of the minor characters, but marked nonetheless, forever carrying proof of the pain they endured but eventually allowing it to heal and be relegated to the past. This is a sensitive, well-written look at love, responsibility, addiction, mental health, and grief in a family fractured and mended over and over again and fans of sibling books and of families struggling but ultimately uniting will enjoy this for sure.

For more information about Tara Conklin and the book, check out the author's website, like hr on Facebook or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Those are such tough topics to really write about and get it right and do them justice but so many people can relate to them. Thanks for being on this tour!

    Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  2. That book sounds really good! I appreciate the link to its Goodreads page so that I can easily add it to my TBR.


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