One of our recommended books is The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

THE LAST ROMANTICS

A Novel


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.

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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 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.

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  • William Morrow
  • Hardcover
  • February 2019
  • 368 Pages
  • 9780062358202

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$26.99

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About Tara Conklin

Tara Conklin is the author of The Last Romantics, photo credit Mary Grace LongTara Conklin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The House Girl. Trained as a lawyer, she worked for an international human rights organization and as a litigator at a corporate law firm in London and New York. Her short fiction has appeared in the Bristol Prize Anthology, Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe, and This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home. She holds a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School (Tufts University). She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family.

Author Website

Praise

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 SimpleParade • PureWow • Bustle

“Tara Conklin is a generous writer who deftly brings us into the world of this fictional family, an engrossing and vivid place where I was happy to stay. The Last Romantics is a richly observed novel, both ambitious and welcoming.” – Meg Wolitzer

“It is the strength and fragility of the siblings’ bond, the evolving nature of love that is at the core of Conklin’s novel….Gracefully rendered, The Last Romantics focuses on the familiar theme of family with great originality.” Washington Post

“Pick up The Last Romantics when you want to be swept into a fictional family….As the narrative traces [the Skinner siblings’] converging and diverging paths over the course of their lives—and promises made, kept, broken, changed—you’ll fall deeper and deeper in.” – Goop

“Conklin examines her characters’ lives with generosity and an unflinching eye for the complexities of love and family…. Fans of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections will find similar pleasures in the intelligence and empathy on display here.” – USA Today (four stars)

“A modern epic…in the vein of Commonwealth, The Last Romantics is a sweeping look at what binds families together.” – Glamour

Perfectly paced, affecting fiction.” – Booklist

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?

Excerpt

Chapter 1

IN THE SPRING of 1981, our father died. His name was Ellis Avery Skinner, thirty-four years old, a small bald lozenge at the back of his head that he covered every morning with a few hopeful strands. We lived in the middle-class town of Bexley, Connecticut, where our father owned and operated a dental practice. At the moment his heart stopped, he was pulling on a pair of blue rubber gloves while one of his afternoon patients, a Mrs. Lipton, lay before him on the padded recliner, breathing deeply from a sweet mask of chloroform.

“Oh!” our father said, and toppled sideways to the floor.

“Dr. Skinner?” Mrs. Lipton sat up. She was unsteady, groggy, and afraid as she looked down at our father on the floor. He twitched once, twice, and then Mrs. Lipton began to scream.

The look on his face, she later reported to our mother, was one of surrender and absolute surprise.

Our mother was thirty-one years old. She’d never held a full-time job and possessed a degree in English literature from Colby College in her home state of Maine that sat unframed in an upstairs closet. Her dark hair hung like two pressed curtains framing the window of her face. Her eyes were wide and brown, with sparse lashes and narrow lids that gave an impression of watchfulness and exposure. Her name was Antonia, though everyone called her Noni, and it was decided long before my birth that her children should call her Noni, too.

The day of our father’s funeral was dank, mid-March. Ronald Reagan was president, the Cold War dragged on, Star Wars had made us all believe in forces we could not see. At that time Bexley was a town where people greeted each other by name at the post office or the bank and no one cared who had money and who did not. The doctor and the mill worker both visited my father for root canals, and both drank beer at the same drafty tavern. The dark Punnel River meandered along the east side of town and gave us something to do on summer days. This was still the era when a ninety-minute commute to New York City seemed absurd, and so the people who lived in Bexley, for the most part, worked in Bexley.

It was no surprise when the whole town turned out for our father’s funeral. Hundreds, it seemed to me. Thousands. Noni led us through that awful day with an iron grip on two of our eight hands. She alternated, she did not play favorites. She had four children, and we all needed to feel the warmth of her palm.

Renee, the eldest of us, was eleven years old. Long, thin limbs, chestnut hair she wore in a single braid down her back. Even as a child, Renee exuded competence and self-containment, and at the funeral she was no different. She did not cry or make a fuss when her tights ran up the back. She helped Noni with us, the younger ones, and tried not to look directly at the casket.

After Renee came Caroline, who was eight, and then Joe, who was seven. Caroline was the fairest of us, with cheeks pink as bubble gum and hair that streaked blond in the summers. Joe was the boy, the only boy, with floppy hands and large feet and a stubborn right-side cowlick that he was forever flipping away from his face. Joe and Caroline both had a tawny glow and quick, broad grins and were mistaken so frequently for twins that sometimes even they forgot there was a year between them.

And then came me, Fiona, the youngest, four years and eight months old on the day our father died. I was a pudgy child with soft, dimpled knees and unruly reddish hair that frizzed and flamed around my freckled face. My looks contrasted so vividly with those of my lithe, golden siblings that neighbors raised eyebrows. A tilt of the head, a shadow of gossipy doubt passing behind the eyes. Bexley, Connecticut, was like that. Working-class New Englanders starched in Puritan ethics. Their nails were dirty, but their souls were clean. After our father’s death, the gossip stopped. Widowhood trumped the suggestion of infidelity. In her grief Noni became infallible, untouchable.

I remember very little about my father while he was alive, but the day we buried him I recall in great detail. At the cemetery a racket of crows flew above the casket. Our priest, Father Johns, delivered remarks in tones that rose and fell like a fitful storm; I could not understand a word of it. The ground was mushy with thaw, but crusts of snow still lurked beneath trees and along the shadowy side of the marble mausoleum that sat up on a low hill behind the grave site.

The mausoleum resembled a house: front steps, a peaked roof, the appearance of windows. It was so much larger and more impressive than the tidy headstone Noni had chosen for our father’s grave. I was more interested in the mausoleum than I was in Father Johns, and so I ran away from the funeral, around the back of the crowd, and up the hill. The mausoleum stones were a deep gray, speckled with rain spots and age, significant and somber. Along the top I sounded out the name GARRISON H. CLARK. And then: BELOVED FATHER, HUSBAND, SON, BROTHER, COLLEAGUE, FRIEND.

Down the small hill, Father Johns spoke in a dull, deep voice. From a distance, finally, I could make out the words:

“Too soon . . .”

“Great burden . . .”

“Do not ask . . .”

Noni’s head was bowed; she hadn’t noticed my absence. Noni was Catholic and felt it in her knees that ached from all the praying but not, she realized that day, in her heart. This was the last time she would entertain the rituals of organized religion, the last day she would bow her head to the words of a man wearing white.

From my position on the hill, the mourners looked similar to the crows, only bigger and quieter, perched on the yellowish green of the spring grass that cut abruptly to the darkness of earth beside the casket. I thought of how little space there was on our father’s stone. How unassuming it was, how meager, nothing like Garrison H. Clark’s showy marble mausoleum. Standing beneath a stranger’s name, gazing down at my father’s funeral, for the first time that day I began to cry.