“This then is the true lesson: There is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naive believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it. And yet. And yet! We believe in love because we want to believe in it.”
This excerpt is from the final page of “The Last Romantics” by Tara Conklin. These last words stuck with me so much that I saved a picture of them, but it was the entire book that I loved. It is a book of family and relationships; of love and loss; of crisis and struggle. More than anything, it is a real picture of an American family who survives all of these things.
I had the great opportunity to speak with Tara Conklin about her book and the characters she created. She was very candid with me about this book and about her life. I was so excited to connect with her after reading this fantastic book!
Tara is the oldest of three sisters; she is also a mother herself and lives with her family in Seattle. She proclaims that she has been a writer for nearly her entire life. “I was a huge reader as a kid, so writing seemed to flow naturally from all the time I spent with my nose in a book.”
She holds a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from NYU School of Law and a Master of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University (wow!). Before becoming a full-time author and public speaker, she worked as a non-profit and corporate litigator. Her mid-career pivot to writing is impressive, and I think I speak for many that we are glad she is an author.
I was most curious about the characters, the Skinner siblings.
While she admits that Joe was initially inspired by a real person and a tragedy from her own life, his character morphed into something wholly unique. All the Skinner siblings – Renee, Caroline, and Fiona – and other characters and events are fictional. They are each so different yet united, as a big family usually is.
Tara told me that her original intention in writing “The Last Romantics” was to show the relationships between siblings and how they can evolve and shift over time.
“I’ve always been fascinated by siblings – I’m one of three, I have three children, my dad is one of six – but I haven’t read many novels that really do justice to the complexity and significance of those relationships,” she said.
As someone from a family of five children, I understand this sentiment.
The inciting event of this book – The Pause – is what shapes every person and their future in this book.
The Skinner siblings’ father has tragically passed away, and their mother has fallen into a deep grieving period. The children are mostly left to fend for themselves, and this changes everyone. They are reckless and free; they are also neglected. They protect each other, but they endure moments of pain and joy that change their lives in ways they would not understand until later in life.
A few of our members believe Renee was most changed by the Pause. Meredith and Ashley agreed that she is forced to grow up quickly and loses a part of her childhood. She remains driven her entire life and becomes a successful international physician with a busy life.
But the other siblings are changed as well. Caroline looks and finds love after her loss, becoming the perfect wife and mother who is barely keeping it together. Joe finds purpose in baseball; his entire identity is perpetuated by this sport, and as “the man” of the house, he struggles to find his place when he is no longer an all-star. And Fiona spends her days at a monotonous job while publishing her blog “The Last Romantic,” which explores her sexual exploits that she posts anonymously.
There are triumphs and tragedies that bring the siblings together and tear them apart.
I really do not want to reveal much about this book, so I’ll let you find out what happens to the Skinner siblings. But even when angry or driven apart, their bond as a family is beautiful. At times, I felt like I was reading about my own siblings. We fight and argue, but we love even harder. In times of struggle or pain, we are the first people to rally around one another. It’s a bond that I am thankful to have and cherish more than I can express.
So is The Last Romantics about family or love? Tara says it is both. She says it best: “I found myself wondering: what if the deepest, most abiding love of your life was a brother or sister? And from there, the Skinner siblings were born.”
Our book club adored this book.
Everyone could find a something to relate to in this book, and that was Tara’s intention. When I asked her why she felt the book was so popular with readers and critics, she said, “Everyone has a family, but so much of what happens within a family remains private. I think it’s both fascinating and comforting to read about the inner workings of another family, to reassure yourself that yours isn’t as dysfunctional as you fear.”
So what is Tara Conklin up to next?
She is hard at work on her next novel but says this one is very different from her previous novels. “It’s set in a small New England town where there’s a rash of petty thefts, a busybody who’s trying to find the culprit, an abandoned pet rabbit, a sky-diving troupe, a young divorcee and lots of colorful characters.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m already intrigued.
Thank you to Tara Conklin for graciously answering all my questions (and letting me fangirl a tiny bit) and for giving us even more insight into The Last Romantics. Our book club highly recommends this novel about family, love, and how it all connects us.
Come back next month as we read The Alice Network by Kate Quinn!
Interested in joining our online book club? Click here for the link to our Facebook group or search us there as MilMB Book Club!