Written by Tara Conklin
William Morrow, 2019
A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love.
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 to ask what, exactly, they are willing to do for love.[Note: I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.]
I don't want to say a great deal about the plot of The Last Romantics because it would be very easy to give too much away and spoil the reading experience for others. But I will just say a word about that "Pause" mentioned in the synopsis. The Skinner children have their world disrupted after their father dies young and leaves their mother to cope with taking care of the family on her own. It's a task she can't handle, and she simply withdraws from the real world for a while, pretty much leaving the children to fend for themselves. By using incredible amounts of resourcefulness and relying heavily on one another, they manage to take care of themselves and their mother during that frightening time.
For the most part, I enjoyed The Last Romantics. I liked the atmosphere and the author's attention to detail. And I particularly empathized with her description of the children's lives during the "Pause," as I experienced something of the sort myself after my father died when I was ten years old.
However, there were a few things that bothered me as I read the book. I never was able to completely warm to any of the characters. The time setting wandered all over the place. Also, the feminism theme came and went, as though the author couldn't really make up her mind about it.
And I had problems with the voice and perspective of the book. Most of the time we're seeing things through the eyes and memory of Fiona, the main narrator. But then without warning, we're getting thoughts or situations or conversations that she wouldn't have been part of. I think I would have been more comfortable if there'd just been the ordinary omniscient narrator all the way through. Picky, I know — but it kept taking me out of the story.
Still, it's definitely a book I'd recommend and I'm grateful to the publisher and Library Thing for giving me the opportunity to discover an intriguing, new-to-me author.
Qualifies for the following reading challenges:
2019 GoodReads Challenge.
2019 Print Only Challenge.