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The Last Romantics

Review

The Last Romantics

Tara Conklin was an attorney before she turned her attention to fiction writing with her first novel, THE HOUSE GIRL. This bestseller was broad in scope, crossing the centuries to contend with big social issues and themes. Her sophomore effort, THE LAST ROMANTICS, feels similarly broad in scope, even if she uses a somewhat smaller canvas, this time focusing on the history of one family over nearly a century.

At the center of the book is youngest daughter Fiona, who is an old woman and a poet of some renown when readers first meet her in the year 2079. She is prompted by an audience question to recount the history of her family, even as the large audience is contending with one of the increasingly frequent blackouts and emergency alerts prompted by climate change. The question leads Fiona to recall memories --- good and bad --- that perhaps have not crossed her mind in decades.

"Choosing love --- making the bold choice to love even when heartbreak and loss are the inevitable outcomes --- underlies the Skinner family’s story and vividly makes the case for love after all."

Fiona’s memories begin with her father’s death, when she was just five years old and living in a small town in Connecticut. After his sudden passing, her mother (called Noni by her children) descends into a depressive episode that lasts for years, leading the four Skinner children to largely fend for themselves.

Oldest daughter Renee channels her fears and anxiety into a drive for success, a single-minded pursuit of academic excellence that leads her on a path to medical school. Middle daughter Caroline seeks security in a relationship with a neighborhood boy and (much to Noni’s disappointment) the eventual subsuming of her own ambitions into a life of supporting her husband and children. Youngest daughter Fiona --- until she finds her way through poetry and leadership of an environmental activism organization --- relies on her older siblings for financial and emotional support.

And then there’s the family’s only son, Joe, who at first seems like the golden child. Attractive and athletic, Joe quickly becomes the star of his hometown baseball team, earning an athletic scholarship to a prestigious college. But when mental illness and addiction loom ever larger in his life, his sisters are left wondering what effect the past continues to have on his present and all of their futures.

Conklin’s title, THE LAST ROMANTICS, alludes not only to the tell-all blog that Fiona starts in her 20s, it’s also a reference to all the siblings, who must make a conscious decision to believe in and pursue love even when love has continually disappointed them. At the opening of her story, Fiona tells the audience member whose question prompts her recollections that “If you live long enough and well enough to know love, its various permutations and shades, you will falter. You will break someone’s heart.”

The family story Fiona tells certainly backs up this assertion, but just as powerfully and poignantly, she includes a piece of advice that Caroline receives from an acquaintance while in the throes of grief. “You have to decide what you love,” the woman tells Caroline. “You have to decide now and hold on. Start small. Begin with the small things and work up from there.” Choosing love --- making the bold choice to love even when heartbreak and loss are the inevitable outcomes --- also underlies the Skinner family’s story and vividly makes the case for love after all.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 22, 2019

The Last Romantics
by Tara Conklin

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062358200
  • ISBN-13: 9780062358202