STARRED REVIEW
January 2016

A heartrending, music-filled debut

By Ed Tarkington
A reader need not be a disciple of rock legend Neil Young to find that Only Love Can Break Your Heart strikes a nostalgic chord.
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A reader need not be a disciple of rock legend Neil Young to find that Only Love Can Break Your Heart strikes a nostalgic chord.

But for those of us who appreciate Young’s immense musical gifts, Ed Tarkington’s debut novel will likely prove twice as harmonious. In many ways a classic coming-of-age story, the novel also digs deep into the loamy depths of the modern Southern Gothic genre, circa 1970s.

Tarkington’s novel unfolds from the perspective of its young narrator, Rocky, whose older brother and hero, Paul, is the quintessential teenage bad boy. When Paul’s bitterness toward the boys’ father leads to a reckless act of defiance that places Rocky in peril, the brothers become geographically estranged, but never divided at heart. Years later, a crime divides their hometown but brings them back together.

The small Virginia town of Spencerville is filled with an eclectic cast of characters that keeps the tale moving at a brisk pace, even after Paul’s early departure from the narrative scene. This is a dark story of a dysfunctional crew, from the cantankerous family patriarch and his young wife, the religious and submissive Mrs. Askew, to the horsey debutante and seductress Patricia Culver and Paul’s fragile soul mate, Leigh. 

Without spoiling the ending of this compelling page-turner, it can be said that Tarkington’s impressive first novel achieves every author’s goal: Once you start reading, you can’t stop. And as an added bonus for Neil Young fans, Tarkington’s riveting tale provides plenty of classic rock riffs, too.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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