Book Review: 'The Romantics' is absorbing and redemptive novel
"The Last Romantics" is the powerful story of a family, unmoored by the sudden death of their father, and later how each of the four close siblings develop and become distinct personalities.
The story is told in great depth and honesty by Fiona, the youngest of the Skinner family. She comes to finally tell her story at the age of 102, when she is interviewed at her first public event in 25 years to talk about her enormously famous and beloved poem, "The Love Story." As thousands listen in, she is beseeched to answer the question: "Who was Luna?" a key figure at the end of her great poem. She has never answered that question. She decides it is time for the dramatic revelation of this mystery. The year is 2079, and the heart-rending story of her family's past is told to an eager multitude of admirers for this, her final interview.
When in the spring of 1981, their father, Ellis Skinner, dies of a heart attack while tending to one of his dental patients, the family is devastated by the shock. The mother, Noni, responds to the sudden death of her husband by retreating to her bedroom for many days at a time in a severe reactive depression. The eldest sibling, Renne, does what she can for two years to care for Caroline, the next oldest, then Joe, and Fiona, who was 4 years old at the time. They call that period, "The Pause." Fiona describes the children as "wild things" in that first summer of The Pause. The Skinner children were essentially "feral" with little or no parental supervision or support, but in the process they all grow close. They also come to believe that The Pause shaped who they were to become as adults.
Noni eventually recovers and takes charge of her children with a feminist agenda, focusing on the girls to be independent in life, ready for any situation that could suddenly alter circumstances. Nobody worries about Joe, who exhibits early talents for baseball and is apparently destined for greatness. Renee fashions her life around becoming a doctor, and Caroline disappoints her mother by marrying a college professor and having a family early in her life. It is Fiona, the "littlest Skinner," who becomes a popular voice on her blog, "The Last Romantic," a frank look at adult relationships. Later, pursuing her life-long muse, Fiona becomes a very powerful voice in the world of poetry.
Following the siblings through their lives, their desperate attempts to protect each other and keep their family together as a refuge, the story of their betrayals and failed attempts to help each other becomes a kind of compassionate look at love, commitment, fate and the imperfect bonds people keep for the sake of community and the heart. In the end, Fiona wonders that the salvation of the world may be "the alchemy of individuals who believe first that they can change themselves." This is an absorbing and redemptive novel of grace, craft and heroic characters. A revelatory and original account of the many "heady promises of love."
Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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