Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

The Last Romantics
by Tara Conklin
Read by Cassandra Campbell
12 hours, 14 minutes
Published February 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
In the spring of 1981, the young Skinner siblings — fierce Renee, dreamy Caroline, golden-boy Joe, and watchful Fiona — lose their father to a heart attack and their mother to a paralyzing depression, events that thrust them into a period they will later call “the Pause”. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the siblings navigate the dangers and resentments of the Pause to emerge fiercely loyal and deeply connected.

Two decades later, the Skinners find themselves 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 what, exactly, they will do for love.

Narrated nearly a century later by the youngest sibling, the renowned poet Fiona Skinner, The Last Romantics spans a lifetime. It's a story of sex and affection, sacrifice and selfishness, deeply held principles and dashed expectations, a lost engagement ring, a squandered baseball scholarship, unsupervised summers at the neighborhood pond, and an iconic book of love poems. But most of all, it is the story of Renee, Caroline, Joe, and Fiona: the ways they support each other, the ways they betray each other, and the ways they knit back together bonds they have fractured.

My Thoughts: 
The Last Romantics is a book about the things that tie a family together and the things that tear them apart, which makes me very glad to have chosen it as one of this year's book club selections. There's a lot to discuss here, including both the strengths and the weaknesses (in my opinion, of course) of the book. Let's get those (again, in my opinion) weaknesses out of the way first. 

The Weaknesses: 
  • Fiona works, for most of the book, for a climate watch group, which is all very well and good. Except that the book alternates between 100+-year-old Fiona telling a group of fans about her family history while outside it's clear that climate change has, indeed made a powerful impact on the Earth. Except that's not really touched on all that much and it doesn't really impact that story in any way. It could have been left out or incorporated more. 
  • So the entire reason for Fiona to tell the audience her family's story is to explain to them who the "Luna" that appears in her most famous poem was to her family. We finally get to that point late in the book and then I felt like we got bogged down in that piece of the story. I wanted the story to be about the siblings and not veer off into Luna's story; and then I found the girls' obsession with finding Luna very strange and unlikely. 
The Strengths: 
  • I do love me a good story about siblings - about their relationships with each other and about who each of them are in their own lives. 
  • These are particularly strong characters. While Fiona is clearly the main character of the book, each of her siblings are well-developed and any one of them stands on their own. We can clearly see how the young child they were grew into the adults they became and how The Pause impacted that growth. 
  • There are a lot of themes explored in the book and they never feel forced. 
  • I very much liked the way Conklin tied up the book. You all know I enjoy a book that doesn't necessarily tie everything neatly with a bow at the end. 
I'm so looking forward to hearing what my book club members think of this one! 

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