The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Advanced Reading Copy; 368 pages
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is a very highly recommended family drama.
2079, Fiona Skinner is a 102-year-old poet who, during a rare public
appearance, meets a
young woman whose parents named her "Luna" after a woman mentioned in
Fiona's world-famous work, "The Love Poem," written 75 years earlier.
This Luna wants to know the story behind the real Luna, from the poem.
This request requires a long story from Fiona, which makes up the bulk
of the novel.
1981 marks the beginning of "the Pause" for the Skinner
siblings. This is the year their father suddenly dies, leaving their
mother, Noni, a young widow with four children. They move out of their
beloved yellow house into a smaller, more modest home and Noni falls
into a paralyzing depression that lasts three years. At the beginning of
the Pause, the children were 4-year-old Fiona, 7-year-old Joe,
8-year-old Caroline, and
11-year-old Renee. While Noni stays in her bedroom for days at a time,
the Skinner children must fend for themselves, which creates a powerful
bond between them. Noni eventually reclaims her parental
responsibility, but the Pause deeply impacted the whole family with
reverberations into adulthood. Noni comes out of it as a much more militant woman, wary of men and any dependence upon them.
Fiona serves as the omniscient narrator for the story of her family
and how their traumatic childhood continued to be the root of issues
which followed them into adulthood. The sibling most damaged by the
Pause was Joe, but all of them suffer from consequences and approach
adulthood quite differently. Renee is driven and focused as she pursues a
medical career. Caroline marries early and is devoted to her professor
husband and their children
without considering her own desires. Fiona has a mindless job at a
ClimateSenseNow! while secretly writing a blog detailing her sexual
encounters. Joe has problems with addiction that are basically ignored
or quietly handled by the family.
The writing is exceptional and the compelling story of the Skinner family will hold your attention throughout the novel. The early trauma from the Pause and the on-going family saga is gripping
enough without framing the engrossing parts of the story with hints of a
climate changed future. Actually, the chapters set in 2079 serve only
as a distraction from the real story. All the oblique references to a
dystopian future and climate change are never adequately addressed. These chapters become a structural problem that only serves to
detract from the real story. It would have behooved Conklin to find a
better venue for Fiona to relate the story of her family. The Last Romantics held
my attention, in spite of the structural problems of looking back from
the future to tell the story. I enjoyed the narrative immensely, but
would go to 4.5 on a rating based on the 2079 chapters framing the real
My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.