No family is perfect. No one truly knows what’s happening behind closed doors unless they're there, a part of it from the beginning. Conklin (The House Girl, 2013) captures these truths with honesty and seeming ease in her second novel, a beautifully written story of four siblings' love for one another across their entire lives. Sibling relationships are exposed in their truest forms as Renee, Caroline, Joe, and Fiona Skinner fall in and out of love with each other over a lifetime. Bound together early in life by both blood and tragedy, they find solace and security in childhood summers spent at a neighborhood pond. These early memories shape their lives and future relationships, and when tragedy strikes again years later, the siblings are once again forced to either sink or swim together. Despite spanning almost a century, The Last Romantics never feels rushed. Conklin places readers in the center of the Skinner family, moving back and forth in time and allowing waves of emotion to slowly uncurl. Perfectly paced, affecting fiction. -- Melissa Norstedt (Reviewed 12/1/2018) (Booklist, vol 115, number 7, p24).
From the vantage point of a future ravaged by global warming, Conklin's (The House Girl, 2013) narrator describes the lingering consequences of the traumatic childhood she shared with her three siblings. In 2079, when the world is increasingly devastated by floods and other climate disasters, renowned 102-year-old poet Fiona Skinner meets a young woman whose parents named her Luna after a woman mentioned in Fiona's world-famous work, "The Love Poem," written 75 years earlier. To answer the young woman's questions about the original Luna, Fiona tells the story of her childhood: After their father dies suddenly in 1981 and their mother, Noni, retreats to her bedroom in paralyzing depression, 4-year-old Fiona, 7-year-old Joe, 8-year-old Caroline, and 11-year-old Renee must fend for themselves for several years in what they call "the Pause" until Noni eventually reclaims her parental responsibility. The Pause creates a powerful bond among the children but affects each differently. Renee carries her take-charge sense of responsibility into a high-powered medical career but avoids having children of her own. Despite the disapproval of Noni, who has become wary of men and dependent womanhood, Caroline marries early and creates a perfect domestic world for her professor husband and their children without considering what world she wants for herself. Coddled, slightly clueless Fiona takes a mindless job at a nonprofit called ClimateSenseNow! (hint, hint) and writes a blog recounting each of her sexual experiences in numerical order. Passionately protective of his sisters, Joe is perhaps the most damaged. Despite early promise, his life skitters off the rails, redeemed only briefly by his love affair with the young bartender Luna before he suffers what Fiona calls his "accident." In reaction, the sisters re-examine their own priorities. A problem, especially in scenes involving Joe, is that Conklin sometimes describes private thoughts and feelings Fiona could not know, although according to the novel's framing device she is recounting her own memory of events. Basically a lukewarm turn-of-the-21st-century family melodrama despite the intermittent, never adequately integrated references to a future wracked by climate change. (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2018).
Conklin's sophomore effort (following The House Girl) recounts the complex but loving relationships of four siblings whose lives are irrevocably changed after their father dies unexpectedly when they're children, ranging in age from four to 11. Their mother sinks into depression and leaves them to fend for themselves for three years. Elder sister Renee shoulders the majority of the burden and takes this sense of responsibility into a career as a surgeon. Caroline seeks traditional marriage and motherhood at the expense of personal fulfillment, until later in life. Joe, the beloved only brother, becomes the focus of attention and promise for the whole family; his demons are ignored or dismissed until too late. Fiona, the youngest, eventually a celebrated poet, serves as the omniscient narrator. Another family tragedy leads them all to reexamine their lives and their relationships and the impact their early loss had on them. A somewhat implausible framing device, set in the year 2079, serves little purpose, except perhaps to explain the occasional anachronisms and time line inconsistencies that could have been caught by more careful editing. VERDICT Structural problems aside, the examination of trauma and its impact on family relationships is believably rendered. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/18.] --Christine DeZelar-Tiedman (Reviewed Winter2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 21, p67).