The Last Romantics: A Novel

by Tara Conklin

Hardcover, 2019


Checked out
Due May 17, 2019



William Morrow (2019), 368 pages


A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick! An Instant New York Times Bestseller Named a Best Book of the Month by Goodreads * Lithub * Refinery29 * InStyle * HelloGiggles * Real Simple * Parade * PureWow * Bustle "A richly observed novel, both ambitious and welcoming." -- Meg Wolitzer 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. 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 novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, The Last Romantics is 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SilversReviews
The family had to move to a smaller house and a not-so-nice neighborhood and to fend for themselves because they only saw their mother when she decided to venture out from her bedroom.

Renee was the oldest, Caroline was next in line, Joe was the only boy, and Fiona was the baby when it all happened. They called this time their mother was absent The Pause. The Pause went on for a few years.

The children did well for a while, but then things started to get tough. Renee couldn’t take the responsibility, and the other children couldn’t do without her. They started going their separate ways and weren’t as close knit as they had been until one day another adult stepped in, got them some help, and got their mother Antonia out of bed.

Things looked up after that, and the family unit worked better together as everyone grew up.

We learn of what happened to each family member whether good or bad. They all loved each other and were there for each other.

I was disappointed in this book even though it has Ms. Conklin's beautiful, detailed writing.

THE LAST ROMANTICS was not an appealing read or of interest, and I struggled to read it in its entirety especially since I LOVED her first book.

I know I am in the minority for opinions. 2/5

This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher via NETGALLEY and in print in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member 3bythesea
Wow, I really enjoyed this book. It's beautifully written and the characters and wonderfully drawn. It was compelling and when I put it down I found myself trying to squeeze moments out of my day to read more of it. The book focuses on the different responses siblings have to the loss of a parent and another loss later in their lives. It captures how even loving families can struggle in the face of life's hardship
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LibraryThing member Well-ReadNeck
Hidden in this novel is a page-turning dysfunctional family tale (and I love these), but the framework and too many subplots makes it a bit ungainly. The novel begins in 2079 where a 102 year old poet, Fiona Skinner, living in a world beset by climate change issues is giving a lecture about her body of work. She begins to tell the story of her family, her father passes suddenly when she is young and her mother, seeped in depression during a period she and her siblings call The Pause, the four Skinner children are left to fend for themselves. The oldest, Renee carries the burden of parenting her siblings, becomes an ambitious and hard driving physician. The second daughter, Caroline, marries the boy next door, devotes her life to her husband and family and in middle age decides to live for herself, divorcing and striking out; Joe, the only boy, is a golden child in his youth but there are episodes that forewarn possible mental health issues. A Wall Street phenom, he succumbs to the lure of drugs and money and his NYC career downfall leads him to move to Miami where the culmination of the story takes place. Finally, Fiona, the youngest recounts her youth and realizes in her maturity that her point of view on events as they happened were both naive and sheltered from hard truths. The plot moved along well but the framework of a young woman asking a question at a lecture, the climate calamitous future and several meandering tendrils of story drive the plot toward the end of the narrative, but not necessarily a toward a satisfying conclusion.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing's early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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LibraryThing member rglossne
The Skinner family is shaped by two deaths. Early on, their father dies, leaving the four siblings with an incapacitated mother who retreats into what they call 'The Pause.' In adulthood, the death of a sibling leaves the other three adrift and dealing with questions surrounding the death. In between those two deaths, the siblings become adults whose lives are shaped by their childhood and family life, as we all are. The story is narrated by Fiona, the youngest, who is a writer and a poet. As she looks back on her life in the telling of it, she realizes that she never had the whole picture, just parts as she could understand them. I enjoyed this book and its exploration of family love, family grief, and dysfunction. The characters were appealing and the story kept me reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher.*

I loved Tara Conklin's The House Girl, so I think I had unreasonably high hopes for this book. It is a good book, but not (in my opinion) as good as the author's previous novel. This is the story of four siblings, beginning after the death of their father during their childhood and stretching into the future. Narrated by Fiona, the youngest daughter who eventually becomes a famous poet, this book explores each sibling's life, but also at times, mediates on family, love, secrets, politics, and climate change. Overall, I liked the book and it did offer a compelling story that kept the pages turning.… (more)
LibraryThing member susan.h.schofield
This was an amazing family saga - beautifully written, realistic, touching and engaging. It spans almost 100 years in the lives of the Skinner siblings - Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona. It follows them from the death of their father as young children into adolescence and adulthood. It is about the relationships between the siblings as well as their relationship with their mother and as they grow into adulthood, their significant others as well. I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Carmenere
Thank you William Morrow Books and author Tara Conklin for the opportunity to read and review The Last Romantics prior to its February 19, 2019 release.

"In a sense stories are all we have to tell us about the future."

"In poetry's stripped-down urgency, in its openness, the space between lines, the repetition and essentialism-poets can speak in ways that transcend culture and gender and time."

This novel of family dynamics and dysfunction begins in the year 2079. Fiona Skinner the youngest of the Skinner clan at the age of 102 is a renowned poet. As she addresses the audience who has assembled to discuss her poetry, a young woman with a name from Fiona's past questions her about a line contained in one of her most famous poems, "The Love Poem". To explain, Fiona must return and recount the days of her childhood and life with her sisters, brother and mother. This portion of the book brought to mind the elderly woman in the movie Titanic reminiscing about Jack. The technique works well here too.
The reader learns of the three events which shaped the lives of the Skinner children, "The Pause", "The Unraveling" and "After". The reader discovers that each family member grieves in a different manner and each moves on when reconciliation moves in.
Ms. Conklin throws in a few Easter eggs to keep the reader anticipating and surmising. A couple which I would have enjoyed seeing more fully developed were just dropped but in actuality were not essential to the story.
Very readable and fast paced despite the lack of a lot of action. At it's heart, The Last Romantics is a family drama sharing in the ups and downs which occur in the lives of every reader.
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LibraryThing member Bonnie.Franks
This book owned me. Plain and simple.

From the first page, I felt that I was being told an intimate story by a unique storyteller. I felt like no one else would or could hear this story, only me. It was so rich, and so loving, and so happy/sad, and so complete/incomplete. I want to read it again already.

There is no way to completely describe the writing alone, let alone the combination of the perfect words and the perfect story. It is so touching. As Fiona told the story, sometimes I was her, and sometimes I was her sisters, and always I was feeling for all of them. I still am.

Read this book if you are human. You owe it to yourself.

Thank you to and the publisher for my copy of this book.
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LibraryThing member mrsgrits
4.5 stars
This book was SO GOOD. I love a good family history/family drama and this one did not disappoint. I didn't agree with all of the choices the siblings made and really found myself disliking Noni for a while. In the end, they all look out for each other and love each other the best they know how. I found myself relating to Caroline the most, especially her struggles.

I especially loved the way Conklin described how everyone ended. It reminded me of the series finale of 'Six Feet Under'. I wanted to know all the details and how they were all connected. Such a beautiful ending!

If you enjoyed Commonwealth by Ann Patchet, you might like The Last Romantics.
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LibraryThing member Laura1124
I was pleased to be selected as an LT Early Reviewer of Tara Conklin’s, The Last Romantics. In this absorbing novel, four siblings and their mother twice experience loss of a family member. Their grief sets in motion actions and life choices that take them in different directions even as they endeavor to stay together.

The novel is mostly serious in tone but has many light moments as well. It is told primarily by the youngest sibling in her old age and shifts back and forth in time but is fairly easy to follow despite some subplot diversions. The novel is neither light nor heavy. And the title fits the story for numerous (and contradictory) reasons.

It seems to be about how different people personally and collectively experience both love and grief and then how their individual reactions permanently affect not only themselves but those around them. The subject and plot are intriguing and well told. The characters are credible and some stories seem familiar but their paths from childhood to adulthood not entirely predictable. While, I could identify with each of them in some significant way, I could never fully fix on any one of them. In my imagination they became people I know associated with their names rather than traits. Consequently, at times, I failed to engage fully with some of the more soul searching moments. This may have been intentional – possibly the characters became hollow through loss.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it – although mostly to women. It will generate some good book club discussions about family and marriage and will likely be compared to Ann Patchett’s, Commonwealth, which I really admired and enjoyed. So, I tried not to make this particular comparison as I read – wanting to reserve all judgment until the last sentence. While I came away satisfied with the novel as a whole in the end, I was not thinking that would be the case -- even as I approached the conclusion. But, despite all this seeming ambivalence, I did like it, and Conklin’s other novel, The House Girl, will be added to my reading list.
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LibraryThing member GrandmaCootie
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is the kind of book that gets into your heart, and very nearly breaks it in the process. In this age of stories told by unreliable narrators with their thrilling domestic suspense and their big reveals it is refreshing to read “just a story” about regular people and their everyday lives. There is no giant drama, just the quiet drama of life, with all its ups and downs and joys and sadness.

But The Last Romantics isn’t really just a story. It’s a tale that grabs you from the very first page and won’t let go. Things can change in a moment – what seemed so good is now oh so bad. Life can be cruel. Four seemingly happy, innocent children, through no fault of theirs, have their perfect life pulled right out from under them. Their father suddenly dies, and nothing is the same after that. That perfect life, with the perfect parents and the perfect home, is no more. They are forced to move. And their mother stops being a mother. Their lives are forever changed.

The story is told from the perspective of Fiona, the youngest child. She has become a renowned poet, and at her first public appearance in 25 years, and at the age of 102, is asked about the inspiration for her iconic work. Her response is spellbinding and begins with the death of her father. It’s a sprawling tale of love and loss and betrayal, of how relationships are formed and destroyed, of how and why people become who they are, and of how family is always still family.

I received an advanced copy of The Last Romantics from the publisher William Morrow, but my opinions are my own and I was not required to provide a review. I found The Last Romantics to be fascinating, gripping, riveting. The writing is strong and the characters very well developed. You can’t help but get lost in their story. I will not soon forget The Last Romantics and highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member claudiaannett
The book opens with a 102 year old poetess giving a reading in 2079, so I was expecting some kind of science fiction, which I wouldn’t have wanted to read. A few pages in though the author starts answering questions about her life, and most of the book is about the relationship among the four siblings, the roles they played in a difficult childhood with an absentee mother and how they reacted against those roles once they left home, but eventually came together again as best friends in middle age. The four main characters are very believable, but also the plot, loosely based on finding a missing woman, keeps moving forward so it’s hard to put down.… (more)
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
There are events in life that shape people, forge them, become an integral piece of who they are. Sometimes these events are seemingly insignificant and other times they are clearly big, life-changing occasions. In Tara Conklin's newest novel, The Last Romantics, two of these huge, defining events happen back to back, leading inexorably toward an outcome and an ending that feels fated, determined by the past and written from the beginning.

Ellis Skinner was 34 when he died suddenly, leaving behind 4 children, ranging in age from 11 to 4, and a wife who had no idea of the dismal state of their finances until her dentist husband is gone. Mother Noni falls into an all consuming depression that lasts for years and that the children call The Pause, during which they must fend for themselves, running a little feral and solidifying each of them into the person she and he will grow to be as adults. Renee is the oldest, driven to take on the responsibility of her younger siblings, taking care of others before herself. Eight year old Caroline is the worrier, leaning into family, although not to her own family but to the Duffy crew the Skinner kids meet that first summer. Seven year old Joe is the golden child, beloved by everyone but whose troubles are either hidden, ignored, or explained away, leaving him searching for what he's missing, first through baseball and then through alcohol. And four year old Fiona, the baby of the family is the observer, coming to hold the family story close and finally to record it through her poetry, to give it voice. The children persevere and survive and eventually Noni comes out of her crushing depression but the siblings always wonder about her emotional resiliency and protect her from any unpleasantness until there is no way to protect her or their own hearts.

The story is framed, and occasionally interrupted, by celebrated poet Fiona Skinner at a reading in 2079, answering audience questions, one of which leads her to tell her family's story, continuing on even during a power outage that seems to stretch on and become slightly sinister. Fiona, now 102 years old and quite famous, narrates the majority of the story in the first person, slowly revealing long held secrets and highlighting the enduring bond that grew between the four Skinner siblings in the aftermath of their father's death and their mother's retreat. The narration occasionally shifts to third person when Conklin wants to show the reader a closer look at what is going on with the other three siblings that Fiona could not have known. The shifts are smooth but sometimes they are so subtle, it takes the reader a minute to adjust to the fact that the focus has changed.

The sibling relationships are the anchor of this novel. They are messy and sometimes frayed, but the strength of the Skinners' history with each other keeps them forever tethered no matter how far they may roam. The conceit of the future setting seems unnecessary as there are only small hints of the reality of life in 2079; the real story is that of Fiona's childhood into adulthood, perhaps even as far as middle age. The beginning is a little slow but the occasional allusions to further tragedy will keep the reader engaged in the story and invested in these flawed but oh so real feeling siblings. The end comes quickly, even as events come fast and furious, each sibling's life wrapped up in just a few sentences once Fiona has revealed what she has lived with for so long. Each character is scarred, perhaps not visibly like two of the minor characters, but marked nonetheless, forever carrying proof of the pain they endured but eventually allowing it to heal and be relegated to the past. This is a sensitive, well-written look at love, responsibility, addiction, mental health, and grief in a family fractured and mended over and over again and fans of sibling books and of families struggling but ultimately uniting will enjoy this for sure.
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LibraryThing member Jonri
I enjoyed this book. The characters were believable. It's well-written. There were a few problems. One was the way it is framed as if it's being told from a vantage point many years from now when all sorts of things are going wrong in civilization but we are never told exactly what those things are and people seem to do most things exactly the same way they do things now.That's a minor quibble though, as the story is mostly set in the past.

Another was I found it hard to believe that some things that the author says were kept secret could have been--for example. that Fiona's husband doesn't know anything about her search for Luna, which is portrayed as very time consuming.

Overall, though I found this a compellingly good read.

I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
This is a family saga about four siblings. They lose their father at a relatively young age and during the period immediately afterward, where their mother tunes out for a while (a period they refer to as "The Pause"), they form a special sibling bond which, unbeknownst to them at the time, affects their relationship with each other throughout the years. Joe, the only male sibling, pulls them together in a special way which none of them really realize or appreciate at the time. As they advance through adulthood and each make their own life choices, they diverge and are brought back together by an unexpected tragedy.

I've had Tara Conklin's previous book, The House Girl, on my to-be-read pile for quite some time, though haven't yet read that one, despite its acclaim. The Last Romantics became available to me as an advanced reader copy, and knowing the popularity of her previous book, I was more than happy to dive into this one. For the most part, this was well written, and as with most family sagas, I enjoyed following the siblings from their youth into adulthood, and further still into their advanced years. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Fiona, the youngest sibling, and while the majority of the book follows along in chronological order, there are several interludes that fast forward into the future, where Fiona is 102 years old, an established poet, and is at a gathering explaining the background for her most well-known book of poetry, which is based on her family. In these sections, there are references to some sort of past and ongoing climate change, and regular safety drills which seem to occur on a regular basis. While a small aspect of these forward flashes in time relates to the story, it mostly served as a distraction and it just didn't quite seem to mesh with the rest of the story. Based on other reviews I've read of this book, other readers have had the same reaction. While the book was good on the whole, I think I would have rated it higher, had this aspect been fleshed out better and not seemed so distracting and disjointed.
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LibraryThing member LynneDJB
I loved this book. Could relate to the characters. I thought the descriptions of "The Pause" were excellent. A couple jaw-dropping moments mixed into very believable, interesting, real life. Up-to-date & modern and yet down to earth. Good storytelling. A very good read. Well done, Tara Conklin.
LibraryThing member KatyBee
I received an advance reader copy from the Goodreads giveaway program in exchange for this review. The Last Romantics was a novel that was easy to fall into, well written and nicely paced. The four siblings at the center of the story provide realistic depictions of family dynamics, the good and the bad. There are some serious messages here about the challenges of parenthood, about career building, and about dealing with grief. It was an interesting twist to set parts of the narrative in 2079 with ominous overtones of future climate issues. A good book for readers who enjoy family sagas.… (more)
LibraryThing member m.belljackson
The Last Romantics opens with a sequence that inspires reading on to solve the mystery of women named Luna.

Unfortunately, despite my love for poetry, romance, and baseball, interest flags because none of the main characters resonate.
Unsavory Noni. Joe, the addict. Lying, sex driven Fiona. Boring Carolyn. Good and loyal Nathan. Underdeveloped Will and Jonathan. Uneven Renee.

Meanwhile, the plot gets overwhelmed with both family secrets and an abundance of fatalistic foreshadowing.
By the time something actually happens, many readers simply will not care.

Many practical matters also go unexplained, like where did the money come from to support the family during the three year "Pause?"
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LibraryThing member bacreads
This was an early review book and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. I really liked The House Girl but this was much different from that novel. For many pages I was wondering where the story was going and why I should care about the characters. It grabbed me immediately by the first chapter being set in 2079. There were comments that allowed the reader to think that something terrible may have happened but there is never much explanation as to what had happened or was happened. A throw-away line that the 2nd Amendment "hadn't made it" but nothing more. I think the author wanted to put a lot in the book but then ran out of space. By page 168 I was wondering why I was still reading. The last 80 pages of the book were the best but I felt the author was just trying to wrap up the story. There were also a few chapters where I wasn't certain which sister was speaking and would have to go back and try to figure it out. I just think this book could have been so much more than it was.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beamis12
A family saga that spans a century. A story of sibling relationships, how they grow close due to a family situation, come apart, and finally come together again, albeit not the same. Conklin does an excellent job looking into her characters lives with a keen insight and a generosity towards the flaws each holds within. The pacing is terrific, despite the time period it covers it never feels rushed. Fiona, the youngest sister is our narrator, and her experiences as the youngest in a family of four seems authentic and real. Although I'm not quite sure that she should have the knowledge she has towards what the others are thinking and seeing. That is the only minor quibble I have, though it is effective.

There are a few unexpected twists, roadblocks thrown in here and there, the things many of us have to deal with a times. Ultimately, this is a novel about love, what we survive, what we forgive and what we pretend not to know to spare another. It is about growing and reacting to the situations we experience. There is happiness, sadness, challenges, all the things of which life and family are made. I enjoyed this, though the ending was a little more emotional that I would have liked. But like life, perfection is not always possible and I enjoyed these characters very much.

"For many years loved seemed to me not something that enriched or emboldened but a blind hole into which you fell, and in the falling you forgot what it was to live in your own light."

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
This follows the Skinner family from childhood to adulthood and how they deal with death, love, and life.

I liked this story. I liked Fiona's first person point-of-view. I liked the Skinner children. I was ambivalent about Noni. The character development is fantastic. I came to know each one and could figure out what they would do in a particular situation.

I liked how the story starts in the future then flashes back to the present day times as Fiona tells her story. There is a lot to think about in the story and relate it to today's happenings. I wanted to know Fiona's story as much as Luna did. I was riveted.
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LibraryThing member linda.marsheells
I suppose i should apologize ahead of time for being in the minority of the miniscule minority here. Blame it on my mood lately, the rain, not enough coffee, whatever you like.... I give 2 stars.
Disappointed-yes. I read the rave reviews and thought WOW i lucked out with this win from Goodreads! But it was not for me. Lots of potential being a generational family book but...just not up my alley.
This must be one of those 'read it for yourself' and see what YOU think books.
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LibraryThing member MsNick
Even though the story frame was a bit clunky, I truly enjoyed this book. The Last Romantics is a well written look at the bonds between family members, warts and all. The characters, all realistically flawed, were very believable/relatable. As for the end of the novel - WOW. Just WOW. I highly recommend Tara Conklin's latest work.… (more)
LibraryThing member AlanaB
The Last Romantics was a good book. It did throw me for a bit when it opened with the year being 2079. I enjoyed reading about the relationships between the four siblings starting in childhood and continuing as they were adults. I also liked that it was broken down into different sections and that the years were listed where the events took place. The book was well-paced and I enjoyed reading it.… (more)
LibraryThing member plumcover3
The aging Poet, Fiona, begins to answer questions about her milestone work, The Love Poem, to students both reverent and aggressive in their need to draw the truth from her as an author. Each story has its truth, its context, none quickly shared or understood, and while the inquisitors may get restless with the delivery of interconnecting pieces, the reader will not. The Last Romantics delves into a cluster of siblings whose life threads and memories are tangled together in ways that can be revealed in careful unraveling. Engaging, set later in our century with memories in our present, Conklin keeps us with her through the ride.… (more)


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