There are a lot of books about love. Some show us what we think love is supposed to look like, others teach us about both love and loss. Some remind us of why love is worth fighting for whilst others demonstrate the hardships of marriage. First love, unrequited love, platonic love, true love, parental love, sibling love, once-in-a-lifetime love. It’s all there, in thousands and thousands of pages in every book in every library in every country around the world.
What’s harder to find, whatever, are stories that express the true nature of love – stories that show that love doesn’t mean everything is going to be good, or even ok, but that loving comes with it’s own brand of imperfections, hurt, weakness and pain, as well as the honour, healing, strength and beauty that we normally associate with it.
This is what Tara Conklin gives us in her heart breaking and stunning novel, The Last Romantics.
“The greatest works of poetry are the stories we tell about ourselves.”
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.
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 guide us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.
I was immediately drawn to this book when I read the title. It’s what most people who know me would call a ‘typical Paige book’. I liked the fact that it mostly focuses on sibling love and the impact family has on us. That bond that can never be broken no matter what happens in our lives.
The Last Romantics is a very deep novel that delves into a lot of complex themes, like ineffectual parenting, how damage during childhood can resurface and impact us later in life, death, sex, the importance of closure, loss, grief and forgiveness.
I was surprised when I read in the first chapter that it was a story on the failings of love. It takes until the last page to realise it wasn’t about the failings of love at all. Yes, real love is about sacrifices; there are limitations, betrayal, vague and dizzy promises, and you will break someone’s heart. These are the sides of love often like to ignore.
However, despite this pain and heartbreak, love is the very thing that heals us, and it comes down to our everyday choices and fighting for those who are worth it.
Conklin provides for us a world in which the characters are tested in every way they can be, using their stories to drive home is deeper message. Which is this: The everyday choices we make about who and how to love are what matters. This is what, when we’re one hundred years old and looking back on life, we’ll talk about. This is what we’ll remember.
At the end of the novel, Conklin writes:
“I was wrong to tell you that this is a story about the failures of love. No, it is about real love, true love. Imperfect, wretched, weak love. No fairy tales, no poetry. It is about the negotiations we undertake with ourselves in the name of love. Every day we struggle to decide what to give away and what to keep, but every day we make that calculation and we live with the results. This then is the true lesson: there is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naive believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it.
And yet, And yet! We believe in love because we want to believe in it. Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles? The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it. Because when the lights go out and we sit waiting in the dark, what do our fingers seek? Who do we reach for?”― Tara Conklin, The Last Romantics
In the end it doesn’t matter how much money we make, what our job was or if we spent our lives studying, working or relaxing. What matters is did you spend it doing what you love with the people you love?
And that love, no matter what form it comes in… if it’s real, we can’t walk away. And if we cease to believe in love, why would we want to live?