Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Contemporary
Published January 5th 2016 by Algonquin Books
This book. So much is going on but it was all so interesting that I think that aspect of it makes it enough to be good. It was interesting and readable and not perfect by any means but still one of the best I’ve read so far this year.
So What’s It About
Rocky is 8 years-old and idolizes his older brother as the cool 16-year-old kid he is. Paul spends his days smoking and driving around in his car listening to Neil Young with his beautiful girlfriend Leigh. The story continues to come back to this moment in 1977 when in an apparent random act of violence against their father, Paul picks Rocky up from school and abandons him the woods. Paul then disappears never to return to his hometown.
The remaining story follows Rocky’s life when 7 years later he is a teenage himself. Life is decent for him. Leigh is back and marrying Charles, the rich boy next door, even though Rocky still has his 8-year-old self’s crush on her. Rocky takes a job at Charles stable to be closer to Leigh but ends up becoming closer with Charles sister, Patricia. 10-years Rocky’s senior Patricia is unmarried and unhappy and latches on to Rocky. When catastrophe strikes the small Virginian town, Rocky’s one place of solace is at rehearsals for the school’s production of Equus. It’s here that Rocky finally starts to belong as the world around him changes rapidly.
I honestly don’t really know what to make of this book. The writing was good and engaging, if not a little slow to get into at the beginning. There was no one character that I couldn’t stand. I think my overall issue that there were so many subjects and storylines. While they were easy to tell apart and keep separate, I think I didn’t get enough details for the ones I liked. At times it felt like I was reading two stories (ex: the “murder” that is described on the back cover summary happens at least 2/3 of the way through, if not more). The Pre-Murder and Post-murder stories were both engaging and I liked them but it was just so much that they didn’t mesh as well as I would have liked and made the ending wrap-up feel rushed.
However, I understand the need for all most of the elements. The story overall is about family and the story reads like a puzzle about what makes up a family and all of the layers of trust knots and webs that connect it, if that makes any sense lol. I think one example of this is the relationship between Rocky’s and Paul’s father. He was never abusive or out-right awful but it was interesting to see each boy’s relationship with him. With Paul, he was all about keeping him a straight line. He loved him, but he was an old man in the 70s and was not about to show it. He was closer with Rocky because he missed his chance with Paul. Everyone’s perceptions of one another/who they really are shift throughout the novel which was really interesting to read and see them develop for better or worse.
Probably not, but this is a book I highly recommend. There were a lot of things going on but every single person and element is unique and has a voice and dimension and that is perfect. While this is not my favorite book I’m really looking forward to Tarkington’s next book, hopefully sooner rather than later.