by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Available January 5, 2016
Stunning, moody, rare, eccentric, and brimming with Southern gothic-ism and down home charm, Only Love Can Break Your Heart will leave readers stunned, amazed and gasping. Only a few days into January and the best adult read has appeared! You won't want to miss Ed Tarkington's love letter to the 1970's and an "easier" down to earth way of life.
Rocky (Richard) idolizes older brother Paul and reports the beginning of the story through eight year old eyes. It's easy to see why Paul plays a central role in Rocky's life. . Paul is sophisticated, cool, aloof, and sometimes downright dangerous. Rocky explains, " My brother Paul had a reputation around town as a 'bad kid.' This wasn't entirely undeserved..." but he goes on to inform the reader that in larger, more cosmopolitan cities Paul's hijinks wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Paul's rebellious side was smoking endless packs of cigarettes, throwing back beers, breaking the speed limit, sneaking out at night and running around with other "nefarious" hoodlums. Typical teen boy behavior, but it sends their father, "the Old Man," into a rage at every turn. The "Old Man" doesn't let it fester; he tends to look the other way when Paul misbehaves. Although not spoken aloud (ever!) there is a deep love between older boy and the Old Man. Paul's mother Ann left for Akron, Ohio, never looking back. The Old Man instructs his boys "never marry a Yankee!"
Ann does make a brief appearance when she arrives for Paul's high school graduation. After embarrassing herself, her son and family, she returns to Ohio where it's all downhill from there. Paul's first love is beautiful, ethereal Leigh who as the novel progresses becomes more and more damaged. Most of the characters throughout the novel are damaged if not broken (that's life!). Rocky's mom is much younger than the "Old Man," and she married if not for love--for security and money. In those days in a small town, if a woman isn't married by age twenty five, she is considered an old maid--a fate that no girl can endure. The boys both attend a fancy and pricey private school where they can mingle with other wealthy students from "good" homes. There are class lines in Spencerville, and although Rocky's family lives in a comfortable home and the "Old Man" earns a good living, he came from nothing. His family was dirt poor, therefor the privileged and snooty old wealth shuns him. No matter how successful or rich he becomes, he will never be accepted into their lofty ranks and it eats at him. Seeing a way to make a real "deal," he loses everything.
Twin Peaks (shades of Gone With the Wind meets To Kill a Mockingbird) has been abandoned and haunted for years. When Paul takes Rocky over to explore the old mansion, Paul is shot and the story soars. All the characters are now in place with a bone or two to pick with each other. This one kept me guessing until the ending. Even now, looking back, I have some unanswered questions, and I mean that in the best ways! A great novel really gets to you and bothers you to the bone and that's just what Only Love Can Break Your Heart does.
If you love Southern tradition, Ed Tarkington is your author. I would put him in the ranks of Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Only Love Can Break Your Heart may do just that! Bring your box of Kleenex because you'll need them! I will not likely forget Paul, Rocky or Leigh. The Old Man who is first seen as a grouchy ogre redeems himself and the reader will see the true man when he develops Alzheimer's. In fact, I respected the Old Man after I realized his life story. "Love can make people do terrible things..." is oh, so true!
Poignant yet promising, this is the BEST adult novel I've read in a very long time. It's right up there with my favorite all time novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shadow of the Wind and Life Among Giants.
Highly, highly recommended. Order or grab a copy today. You won't be able to put down this book.
In fact, I finished reading it during the Broncos' game (and I'm a Broncos fanatic), but I couldn't stop reading. I found myself not even listening to the game. I was in Spencerville with Rocky and Paul.
Suitable adult title and recommended for all adult book clubs. Mature content, profanity, murder.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.
This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)