Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" by Ed Tarkington

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Algonquin Books for making it available!

"Only love can break your heart. And who wants to live without love?"

Sometimes a novel's greatest strengths are its characters and its storytelling. Nothing tremendously earth-shattering happens (except to the characters), but those books are tremendously enjoyable to read because they're well written and their characters are fascinating, complex people. That's definitely the case with Ed Tarkington's Only Love Can Break Your Heart. There are no real shocking surprises, no literary pyrotechnics, just excellent writing that evokes both nostalgia and emotion.

In the late 1970s, eight-year-old Richard "Rocky" Askew worships his 16-year-old brother Paul, who is just a bit rebellious, drives a cool car, listens to classic rock, and has a beautiful but troubled girlfriend, Leigh. One day Paul picks Rocky up from school, saving him from certain punishment after getting caught fighting, but the day ends with Paul nearly abandoning Rocky to die in the woods. The next day, Rocky and Leigh disappear.

Eight years later, Rocky, now a teenager himself, begins a relationship with the older daughter of the family who lives next door to his, a family that has been in the center of many of the Askews' problems. The relationship, along with several other occurrences, sets a chain of events in motion that will shake both families, and those around them, to the core.

As you might tell from the title, this is a book about love, and the things we are willing to do for it. But it goes beyond romantic love, as the relationship between Paul and Rocky is core to the story as well. It's also the story of how when love goes wrong, it can be the catalyst for many problems.

I really enjoyed this book, and thought Tarkington did a terrific job making you care about the characters. While I wasn't necessarily surprised by anything that happened, I still felt tremendously invested in the story, and wanted to know how (or if) everything would be resolved. This is really good, solid, well-written book, and I hope it's just the start of Tarkington's literary career, because he has real talent.

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