386 pages ~ Literary Fiction
Feb 5th, 2019 ~ William Morrow Books
My Rating: 4/5 ✰✰✰✰
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.
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. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.
“The greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them.”
The Last Romantics is such a wonderful study in contrasts. The story of The Skinner siblings feels, at times, to be sweeping and epic, however, nothing beyond what we can expect from an ordinary life happens to these characters. Their lives and loves are both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. Conklin manages to portray the complexity of sibling love and shows how powerful and true it is, despite all of its flaws. Her writing is both subtle and powerful and really celebrates “ordinary” human life. The writing is raw and unromantic, but still heartwrenching and beautiful. “True love” in all of its forms, is true because it is flawed, and because it is essentially “human.” This book does such an amazing job of celebrating this. I can’t say enough about how much I loved this book.
Below are a few themes that really stood out to me:
The Poetry- Fiona, the youngest of The Skinner siblings and narrator, is a poet and Conklin manages to seamlessly incorporate elements of poetry that both moves that plot forward and adds to our understanding of these characters. The poetry itself was beautiful, but also added such an interesting layer to the novel.
Representations of Grief and Depression- I really liked that Conklin didn’t shy away from a true portrayal of Noni’s grief and depression during “The Pause.” There is nothing mysterious or vailed about her experience. It is gritty and raw but also tinged with moments of beauty. Grief acts as a constant companion to these characters and changes them in profound ways which is something that I really related to and appreciated.
The connection between Parent and Child- The Skinner siblings come together and pull apart throughout the course of the novel. Their shared experiences and trauma bring them closer together, and yet their individual struggles seem to pull them apart. Their desire to protect Noni is a constant source of connection as well. I thought that Conklin really portrayed this complicated connection beautifully.
“We forgave Noni not because she was all we had, although this was true, but because we shared her. She belonged to the four of us, and for one to forgive her meant that the others couldn’t either, and none of us was willing to shoulder the burden of that decision. None of us could bear to take Noni away from the others again.”
The only slight drawback for me was the third person narrative style told by Fiona. I really enjoyed the flashbacks told from Fiona’s POV when it involved her own life. However, when she was narrating for her brother and her sisters, it did, at times, become distracting and kept pulling me away from the story. I started to question how Fiona knew enough of these details to relay the personal intimate experiences of her sibilings. I liked Fiona as the primary narrator, but I feel that Joe, Renee, and Caroline’s experiences would have been better told from their own POV, rather than Fiona’s.
Overall, this was a wonderful and moving story about the triumphs of family and of “true love” with all of its wonderful flaws. The Last Romantics comes out today, February 5th, 2019. Be sure to grab a copy of this amazing family drama.
I was graciously provided an ARC of The Last Romantics by Williams Morrow/Harper Collins, however, these opinions are all mine.