Love and Grief: The Last Romantics

Originally published May 2019

What would the world be like if there was only one right way to do everything?

Only one way be a parent. Only one way to love a person. Only one way to grieve a loss. Would our fate become more clearly defined? Would we waste less time on toxic relationships? Would the world, in our collective quest to remediate ourselves from painful mistakes, seem to make more sense while at the same time becoming so predictable as to become truly emotionless and irrelevant?

Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics is a detailed look at how one family struggles to find its way through some of the most intense emotional experiences we all share, including love and loss. Joe, Renee, Caroline and Fiona are the Skinner siblings, raised in what can best be described as an unconventional manner —first by two parents, then by themselves, and then by their mother, Noni, after she finally emerges from a grief-induced fog.

Losing a parent at a young age leaves a mark. For the resilient, it’s tragic but not insurmountable. For those with less-developed coping skills, the damage can last a lifetime. Each of the Skinner sibs has his or her own coping mechanism, none of which are particularly healthy. Drugs, sex, an obsession with a career and the overwhelming desire to be needed constantly — at the end, none of these outlets really soothe the pain of losing someone. And when another tragic loss occurs, it nearly does the sibs in for good.

Told entirely in Fiona’s voice, the book alternates back and forth — mostly back — between “present day” Fiona in the late 21st century, now an acclaimed writer, and her youth, with her third person narrative of Caroline, Renee and Joe’s lives. While I remained a bit baffled over what exactly the heck was going on in the “present” I was so grateful for what almost felt like the literary version of a “Six Feet Under” finale.

This is excellent storytelling and completely worthy of your full attention. While perfect for anytime, with summer reading season upon us, I would definietly download this or throw the hardcover into your beach bag. I miss the Skinners already.

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