Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

The Last Romantics uses a technique I can’t remember having read previously in the same manner – and I love it. Renowned poet, Fiona Skinner looks back on her childhood with her siblings in the year 2079 when she’s 102 and is questioned about the inspiration for her most famous poem. Fiona was the youngest of four when her father died and her mother took “The Pause,” an extended period in which the children had to raise themselves. The effects on Renee, the responsible eldest child, sweet Caroline, Joe, the athlete and charmer, and Fiona who observed everything with her keen eye reverberate for almost a century in Conklin’s steady hands. 

When the children are older, the novel closely follows star athlete Joe and his increasing problems, but even when endearing Joe's troubles can't be escaped, it's Fiona's astute observations that carry the book. From Fiona's blog detailing her sexual escapades to the poetry that brings her respect and acclaim, the novel captures Fiona's thoughts with a clever touch with simple yet not simplistic sentences like this one: "If you live long enough and well enough to know love, you will break someone's heart."

A novel set in the year 2079 is bound to touch on climate change and a changed world and The Last Romantics handles the issues well without belaboring them or turning a delicious narrative into a book in which issues trump story. The 2079 world is the setting for the novel: it isn't its raison d'etre. 

There are numerous plot twists in this family saga and attempting to name or describe them would diminish them so I'll simply suggest that you read The Last Romantics instead. Some think the novel resembles Ann Patchett's Commonwealth and both brilliantly describe four siblings and their growth, but I think The Last Romantics is more similar to Ian McEwan's Atonement in the ethereal outlook with which the narrator turns to the past to make sense of life.

Many readers liked Conklin's 2012 debut novel The House Girl.  I was not one of the book's fans so I wasn't sure I wanted to read The Last Romantics. I'm glad I overcame my concerns as Conklin’s growth since The House Girl is phenomenal.

Summing it Up: If you like family sagas filled with detours that feature elegant and clever writing, The Last Romantics is a novel you should read. It's also one that begs for discussion and that will have book clubs comparing the characters to their own families. 

Rating: 5 stars   
Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma's Pot Roast, Book Club
Publication date: February 5, 2019

What Others Are Saying:
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/tara-conklin/the-last-romantics/
Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-289816-6
Shelf Awareness: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/max-issue.html?issue=315#m669 

“It is a brave thing to write in the voice of a world-renowned centenarian poet, but damn if Tara Conklin doesn’t pull it off. In fact, all of the luxuriously spun characters in The Last Romantics, entwined via that impossible web we call family, unfold over their many years with the perfect balance of familiarity and wonder that makes turning their pages such a pleasure."
Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is

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