Last Romantics (Conklin)

The Last Romantics 
Tara Conklin, 2019
368 pp.

Tara Conklin, the New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl, explores the lives of four siblings in this ambitious and absorbing novel in the vein of Commonwealth and The Interestings.

"The greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them."

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 ask what, exactly, they will 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 navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Raised—Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A., Yale University; M.A.L.D., Tufts Univesity; J.D., New York University
Currently—lives in Seattle, Oregon

Tara Conklin was born on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and raised in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Yale University and received her Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as well as a law degree from New York University School of Law.

Conklin's first novel, The House Girl, published in 2013, was a New York Times bestseller. The Last Romantics, her second, was released in 2019.

A joint US-UK citizen, Tara now lives with her family in Seattle. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[A]ccomplished…. Conklin’s plot avoids the predictable and adds a new mystery each time an old one is solved, resulting in a clever novel.
Publishers Weekly

[A] full-bodied drama…. The unusual narrative format… is similar to that of Atonement, Ian McEwan's masterpiece, and is equally successful as deployed here. An intimate, soul-searing examination of a modern family and the ties that bind, for better or worse.
Shelf Awareness

Beautifully written.… Despite spanning almost a century, The Last Romantics never feels rushed. Conklin places readers in the center of the Skinner family,… allowing waves of emotion to slowly uncurl. Perfectly paced, affecting fiction.

Conklin’s narrator describes the lingering consequences of the traumatic childhood she shared with her three siblings.…. Basically a lukewarm… family melodrama despite the intermittent, never adequately integrated references to a future wracked by climate change.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Why does Conklin choose to frame the story from 2077? Did you think that was effective?

2. Which of the four Skinner siblings do you like the most?

3. How do the effects of The Pause ripple through each of the four siblings' lives? If the Pause had not happened, what do you think might have been different for each of the siblings?

4. Noni came out of her paralyzing depression a staunch second-wave feminist. In what ways does her brand of feminism help her children, and in what ways does it let them down? How does Noni’s feminism compare to Fiona’s feminism, and to the feminism we are seeing today? What strides have we made as feminists and where do we still need to go?

5. Joe and Fiona’s last conversation was an argument about Fiona’s blog, The Last Romantic. Whose side do you take in that argument? Why?

6. Caroline and Fiona try to find Luna in several different ways. Why is it so important for them to find her? Did you think the PI was a good idea? The psychic? What did each sister need from the search for Luna, and did she get it? Why didn’t Renee want to find Luna? Which sister did you sympathize with the most? The least?

7. After Joe’s death, the Skinner sisters break apart for a long time. What brings them back together? How much of family relationships are we able to control? Do you think sometimes it is necessary for families to separate for a time?

8. Do you agree with Fiona’s decision to keep Rory’s existence from her siblings?

9. Caroline ends her long marriage to Nathan, but they remain friends to the end of their lives. Renee leaves Jonathan in order to have a baby, but allows him to return when the baby is born. Fiona has two great loves: Will and Henry. What is Conklin saying about the nature of marriage? Why do you think the Skinner sisters find and forge meaningful partnerships, but Joe does not?

10. At the end of her life, Noni tells Renee that, though her children have forgiven her for the Pause, she has never forgiven herself. Consider the ideas of betrayal and forgiveness. Who in this novel is a betrayer? Who is forgiven? Do you think forgiveness is necessary for rebuilding a relationship after betrayal?

11. At the beginning of the novel, Fiona says, "This is a story about the failures of love." At the end she says, "I was wrong to tell you that this is a story about the failures of love. No, it is about real love, true love." Which do you think is correct? Is there room for both?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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