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Only Love Can Break Your Heart

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"Love can make people do terrible things."

Welcome to Spencerville, Virginia, 1977. Eight-year-old Rocky worships his older brother, Paul. Sixteen and full of rebel cool, Paul spends his days cruising in his Chevy Nova blasting Neil Young, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around his beautiful, troubled girlfriend. Paul is happy to have his younger brother as his sidekick. Then one day, in an act of vengeance against their father, Paul picks up Rocky from school and nearly abandons him in the woods. Afterward, Paul disappears.

Seven years later, Rocky is a teenager himself. He hasn’t forgotten being abandoned by his boyhood hero, but he’s getting over it, with the help of the wealthy neighbors’ daughter, ten years his senior, who has taken him as her lover. Unbeknownst to both of them, their affair will set in motion a course of events that rains catastrophe on both their families. After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to their small town, Rocky and his family must reckon with the past and find out how much forgiveness their hearts can hold.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published January 5, 2016

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About the author

Ed Tarkington

2 books218 followers
Ed Tarkington’s debut novel ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART (Algonquin, 2016) was a ABA Indies Introduce selection (top 10 debuts of the publishing season), an Indie Next pick, a Book of the Month Club Main Selection, and a Southern Independent Booksellers Association bestseller. His second novel, THE FORTUNATE ONES (Algonquin, 2021), also a SIBA bestseller, was recently named a finalist for the Southern Book Prize. A regular contributor to Chapter16.org, his articles, essays, and stories have appeared in a variety of publications including the Nashville Scene, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Knoxville News-Sentinel, and Lit Hub. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 449 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,449 reviews7,556 followers
January 5, 2016
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

EDIT: I hardly EVER do this, but I also don't hand out a lot of 5 Star ratings and apparently the GR way is to "float it if you got it" so here is a BUMP FOR RELEASE DATE TODAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY (1/5/16). Now go read this and write your own review so I can like it : )

“We all get what’s coming to us, but we don’t all get what we deserve.”

Houston commercial photography

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the 195th book I’ve read this year. Out of those 195, I’ve only handed out a handful of 5 Star ratings. I don’t know what it was about this novel that sucked me in, but boy did it and I couldn’t put it down. This is one of those books that’s about nothing – but is also about everything. It’s the story of Rocky’s life. How he grew up with a brother he idolized who was 8 years his senior and how everything fell apart one night when said brother left him for dead. It’s about Rocky’s coming of age with a significantly older neighbor and how a life of privilege can be swiftly taken away. It’s about family and growing up and sins of the past and making amends in the present. It’s just . . . . JUST.

This little book pinged my radar for one reason alone – the cover looks remarkably similar to The Good Luck of Right Now which I read and enjoyed last year. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and imitating this cover might end up selling a few books too. Tarkington also might be the fella to give Matthew Quick a run for his money when it comes to writing a can’t-put-downable type of story with an ensemble cast of dysfunctional characters. And best of all, Only Love Can Break Your Heart provided a soundtrack that took me back to my own childhood and the sounds that would spin from the turntable of the relative I idolized . . .

Houston commercial photography

“For me, a vinyl record will always be a sacred object; the practice of sliding the disc from its musty sleeve and setting it onto the turntable and hearing the warm crack of the needle finding its groove, a sacrament – my Holy Communion.”

(Hot damn but the fella can write, right?)

Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll will never die . . .

Houston commercial photography

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley!
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
January 12, 2016
This is in many ways a coming of age story told by Rocky at age 8 , then as a teenager and an adult . At 8 , he's a sweet young boy idolizing his older brother while they sit in his room listening to music. I couldn't help but love Rocky who at 8 doesn't think of his half brother Paul , 16 as a half brother, but as his brother . I also couldn't help but feel for Paul even as he betrays his young brother to get back at their father .

Yes , there are the obligatory scenes when teenaged Rocky has his first sexual encounters with a woman 10 years his senior and the crazy project to get himself expelled. But it is much more than a coming of age story . It's about a dysfunctional family , actually three families and more than that about a piece of time in a small southern town. The author perfectly sets the stage for 1977 in the country as well as in Spencerville.

Some things did happen that made me think - what ? How is all this going on or more accurately what is really going on ? But yet , all of the characters are so real and the writing really captivated me, especially in the last part of the novel. I love when a writer , at the end gives us a glimpse of the future of the characters, rather than leaving us with the ending of the story at hand. As the titles implies , it is about love , all kinds of love and how that somehow sustained these characters. A debut novel that left me hoping there will be more from this author.

Thanks to Algonquin Books and Edelweiss for the opportunity to read this advance copy .
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
January 8, 2016
As each new plot element was introduced and believe me there are many of them, a little something for everyone, anyway I kept thinking that this should not work. All these elements should not be in one story, so how is it possible that I ended up liking this so much? Well for one, it is very well written and second, I loved the narrator who starts this story when he is eight years old and continues on until adulthood. Rocky is a wonderful observer of his family and people and events in his town. He looks up to his older brother who is considered a rebel, a bad boy and is sixteen. They share a love of music that forges a bond between them despite their age difference. Their family and the family in the big house across the road will be the focus of this novel. All the different elements made this so interesting and fast paced even while I was shaking my head. Definitely readable and a good look at a small town and their prejudgment, what fear will do to people. So hats off to this amazing author.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,743 reviews2,271 followers
February 14, 2016
4.5 stars

The year is 1977, the place: Spencerville, Virginia. Younger brother Rocky, 8 years old, wants to grow up to be just like big brother Paul, 16. Everything that’s important in life, what music to listen to, how to be cool in every way he is absorbing from Paul.

The things he learns from his father, he’d just as soon not know.

“I learned this face not from Paul but rather from the Old Man himself. He had a terrible habit of launching into incontinent monologues in front of his elementary-school-age son the way he might in speaking to some random stranger passing a boozy hour or two on a layover at an airport bar.”

And then one day, Paul disappears with his girlfriend, Leigh. No one hears from either of them.

Rocky’s is a coming-of-age story in several ways, but it’s not exactly your typical one. There are love stories all around, as well, love in all its many forms and complications. It’s easy to care, become invested with these characters. Each is flawed, but despite these flaws-or maybe especially because of them-your heart goes out to them with each twist of fate.

Ed Tarkington weaves a tale like a bee charmer charms the bees, softly, slowly and with love. I was charmed.
Profile Image for Camie.
900 reviews186 followers
March 12, 2016
Ed Tarkington really knows how to turn a phrase and if you were a teenager in the 1970's you are in for a nostalgic read. I learned to play guitar on Neil Young songs, practiced cheerleading skills to the Rolling Stones, and spent countless hours in my room moodily pondering my teenage life with Joni Mitchell's music in the background. I don't know if it's strange to vividly recall the soundtrack of your life, but I met and fell for my husband the summer of Peter Frampton Comes Alive and remember singing Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA later with my growing toddlers. This was of course before cell phones, video games , PC's , and 700 TV stations.
When I saw this book's title no one had to tell me it was from a Neil Young song , that was just a given.
This is the coming of age story of Rocky Askew as he looks back years later and realizes he's had a pretty darn interesting life. There's a lot going on here as this book accounts for his life from age 8 and beyond. Luckily it's written in three parts because as it says on the cover , the story will be in turns sad, tender, suspenseful, insightful, and full of nothing but heart, heart, heart. As some reviews have stated there will be a few times the story will be stretched almost to implausibility, and I agree perhaps Ed shouldn't have tried to cover so much ground here. I personally would have been happy without all of the phallic references, but the way Rocky manages to get expelled from the pricy prep school his parents can no longer afford is pretty clever. That said, you will be hard pressed to say this book doesn't entertain. 40 years after I first learned it I can still play the guitar solo from Needle and the Damage Done ( go Grandma !! ) , my old vinyl records are mouldering somewhere in the basement , and of course my life has taken many twists and turns I could have never imagined when I first struck those chords.
4 stars for this March Selection of On The Southern Literary Trail.
Profile Image for Karen.
574 reviews1,118 followers
April 6, 2016
This was such a great book for me. Took me back to my teenage years with the music, mostly Neil Young references. This story centered around brothers Rocky and Paul is just as the cover states..funny, desperate, sad, tender, suspense, all the emotions. I just loved it!!!!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
August 6, 2015
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

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.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
662 reviews
March 26, 2016
Only Love Can Break your Heart is a coming-of-age-story, a star-crossed romance, a story of a dysfunctional blended family and a mystery. But it is ultimately the story of a relationship between two half-brothers. Richard, aka Rocky, is seven when the story begins. Paul, his brother-by-another-mother, is sixteen. The story starts out dramatically with the somewhat accidental shooting of Paul by a neighbor. Paul recovers, though, and he and the story ramble on, at times rather aimlessly. Paul leaves home and years pass with no word of his whereabouts. Rocky himself becomes a teenager and experiences life and what passes for love with teenagers. Still the absent Paul never leaves him.

Ed Tarkington writes like he has lived what he is writing. His story is haphazard at times but then, so is life. He leaves us with some loose ends but isn’t that how we leave life when the powers that be finally punch our ticket? I was often fully sucked into the story because the events he described are those that many of us have faced. In real life one sometimes has to deal with a loved one who suffers from dementia. This process is never neat and doesn’t fit easily into your average novel but Tarkington’s handling of it not only handled it well, keeping me engaged in the story, but he also enabled me to revisit my own teenage years when I was living through it myself.

I’m torn on how to rate this book. I have just complimented it for being lifelike yet I feel compelled to mark it down for not having the tightly staged plot that one comes to expect from fiction. I think I’m going to end up giving it four stars because I think it could be better, but I’m damned if I know how.
FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews544 followers
March 4, 2016
A very disjointed coming of age novel with way too much going on and with regular name-dropping of various songs (the title is taken from a Neil Young ballad). If three quarters of the plot twists were trimmed, this could have been quite good. So far, this book has gotten an average of 4 stars, so perhaps my expectations were too high.

There is some graphic, gratuitous sex tossed in here, maybe to bump this up from an upper middle grade book to YA. Im no prude - the nasty sex in "A Feast of Snakes" made many readers close & give up on the book, but as awful as it was, it served an important point about the main character's desolation. John Irving often features affairs between young boys and older women as part of his story line and does it with class. The multiple plot lines & random "WTH??" moments were what made me give this 2.5 stars, but the cheesy sex? That just made me annoyed w the author...SPOILER ALERT Stop here.

We have an adoring young boy whose older, chain smoking, half-brother Paul goes off his nut when his drunken mother dies, and because his father refuses to attend the funeral of the drunken mother (his ex-wife who abandoned their boy years earlier). Paul is angry with his father for not attending the funeral, so he runs away after half heartedly threatening to abandon his young half-brother in the forest to die. He decides not to leave the little boy out there, but runs away and takes his 20 yr old girlfriend with him. And his cigarettes, of course (chain smoking is mentioned repeatedly throughout the book).

The lovebirds hide out at a pseudo religious commune, & the guru leader marries them. Girlfriend is made to have sex w guru. She gets pregnant & is okay not knowing whether Paul or the guru is the father. When she happens upon the guru making one of the little commune kids fellate him, however, she runs home. Chain smoking brother does not and stays gone for 7 years.

Preggo girlfriend, now back home, has her father force a late term abortion on her. Makes her a bit cuckoo. Goes to a clinic. Comes home on Thorazine. Ends up engaged to an ugly bachelor whose parents bought house next door to the brothers. Are you still with me?

Little bro, who was nearly abandoned in the woods, meets new neighbors. He is now about 14 & their 24 year old daughter teaches him some very inappropriate things in the hayloft. TMI. Poorly done by the author. Horndog daughter gets the kid to spill the beans about his half-brother & cuckoo girl running off to the cult and doing the late term abortion. Her goal is to stop her brother from marrying the cuckoo. Why, I dont know.

From here, add in: prayer groups with clairvoyant visions attached, a nervous breakdown at the altar, a stroke & subsequent dementia, the loss of fortunes on Wall Street, high school pornographic drawings done to ensure expulsion, a stereotypically portrayed gay drama teacher in public school, a high school play featuring sex in the hayloft & equine fetish, a girl named Cinnamon (also a chain smoker), the return of Paul the prodigal chain smoking half brother who hid out at the cult, the cuckoo girl wandering down a snowy road in bare feet but angelically reading aloud to dementia patients, the doublemurder of the horn dog's parents, the dementia guy's insistence that HE killed them, and then some rumors of Satanic baby killing.

Half-brother and cuckoo, now reunited, are prime suspects for the murder of the parents of the horndog & her still-ugly bachelor brother. Meanwhile, the school play is presented and is supposed to reflect real life. Of course, most of the characters are in the audience. Oooo, drama! This play within the novel is described in detail and is supposed to explain why a certain man can only become erect when around horses. The flaming drama teacher makes the boys who represent horses wear skin tight leather pants and go bare-chested.

I kid you not.

Of course, the horndog gets away with murder and escapes, chain-smoking half-brother is exonerated, and they live happily ever after.

The book was ridiculously convoluted, despite having good promise. This guy's editor should have done a better job
Profile Image for ✨Susan✨.
900 reviews175 followers
February 17, 2016
3 1/2 stars for this pretty good coming of age story with some interesting characters, uncomfortable situations and a murder mystery.
Profile Image for Myrna.
708 reviews
November 12, 2016
Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a well written book with great characters about a boy coming of age. The main character, Rocky, tells the story from age 8 to adulthood. It is slow at the beginning and there is A LOT going on but the story does come together at end. While at no point did this story offer any great surprises or major aha moments, it did tell a good story of relationships, family, and growing up. It didn't WOW me as it has others but it might WOW you. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Judy Collins.
2,585 reviews361 followers
December 5, 2016
A special thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Top 50 Books of 2016!

Ed Tarkington delivers an emotional, haunting, and breathtaking debut, ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART an enthralling mix of coming-of-age, a family saga, mystery, thriller, crime, suspense, and Southern Gothic, mixed with humor; in one unforgettable page-turner of complex “human relationships”.

"Love can make people do terrible things."

The title of the novel is derived from Neil Young’s 1970 album “After the Gold Rush” title: Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Jammed-packed with everything from Classic Rock, Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Mick Jagger, Neal Young, 70s, 80s, Doobie Brothers, Carolina Shag, Camels, Marlboro Lights, Reagan----beer drinking, southern town life, family dysfunction, mental illness, brothers, small town, domestic, affairs, sex, murder, financial loss, arts, culture, literary, religion, cult, hippies, femme fatale, sons and fathers, psychic, community, and loyalty.

Set in upper southern town of Virginia inside the city limits of Spencerville, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the turn of the 1970's. The town was built on tobacco money and the people were willing to plead ignorance as long as the world would let them. (kind of like today).

The narrator, Richard "Rocky" Askew is eight-years-old and idolizes his older half-brother, Paul, age sixteen. Paul is “cooler than The Fonz” (minus the leather jacket and motorcycle), bad boy --loves cigarettes and beer (you could buy cigarettes at 16). He also has a love for vinyl and music. He invites his little brother in his life (his sidekick)--despite the age difference.

They live in The Old Man’s house —his mother is young enough to be Old Man’s daughter. Rocky’s mom is thirty-three, and the Old Man is sixty. She married him for his money, no doubt since her parents were killed in an accident raised by her grandmother. She needed a father figure.

Across the grassy knoll in the distance, sat the old white-columned estate house known as Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks had been vacant for many years, and Paul says it is haunted. From its ancestors--tobacco, liquor, poker, gambling, and whores. Then the stock market crash. Suicide. No one has lived there since. After all, his older brother had broken in and there was some trouble.

Paul was also seeing Leigh Bowman; she traded her tennis, dancing, and competitive swimming for lounging in Paul’s bedroom, smoking cigarettes, and listening to records. Her father forbade Leigh to see Paul.

The Culver’s purchased the mansion Twin Oaks. Jane and Brad. A tragic event occurs, things get crazy, and Paul takes off with his girlfriend Leigh Bowman. Rocky is devastated to lose his best friend. Due to his brother’s wild ways, his mother turns religious -- strict with Rocky.

As Rocky becomes a teenager, he turns to the rich neighbor (ten years older), the Culver's daughter, Patricia--teaching him the ways of the world (The Graduate). The mysterious older woman. (Hilarious) He was naïve and innocent.

She hires him to watch the horses, take care of the stables, mowing (plus more). In between equestrian activities, there is sex. He knew Paul would be impressed with his affair - the sexy older woman. Compared to Patricia, his own childhood seemed mundane. She had lived all over the world. He misses his brother.

There is also a back story of the two families: The Askews and the Culvers. Rocky is “sport” to Brad Culver. An investment goes bad. Black Monday. A stroke. Leigh returns and engaged to Charles, Patricia's older brother.

Rocky never forgets his older brother, and then one day when they are experiencing great financial difficulties, he returns. (The Prodigal Son). How can Rocky afford to remain at the academy, when they have no money?

A double murder. A hideous brutal crime. The little town’s innocence ended, replaced with panic and paranoia, dread, and suspicion, recrimination and lurid fascination. Devil worshipers? An enemy from Brad’s past to settle a score? Everyone is under suspicion.

Then there is Leigh and Paul. Leigh has a mental illness. A new love and life for Rocky? What would a Southern novel be without tragedy, music, love and sadness?

Written with passion, reminiscent of earlier times--not so much a plot-driven novel; however, a bold, rich character-driven novel, with vivid settings. Tarkington’s prose is colloquial and evocative-- honest, raw, and down- to- earth, capturing the South. As a reader you are fully invested in it's characters. The focused attention is in their distress, and the possible consequences. It is Rocky and Paul’s journey, their life, their desires, fears---love, acceptance. Heartwarming, soul-searching.

“No good can come from regret.”

Ongoing strong themes of family and community; loyalty and betrayal, love and redemption. In this extraordinary coming-of-age story, we experience the hormones of youth, the trials of growing up, and a “larger-than-life drama of intimacy and betrayal.”

“When people build something together—be it abstract or physical, spiritual or material—the circle closes around them. They find that elusive peace that, as the other Paul once wrote, passes all understanding. “

LIFE the good, the messiness, the bad, and ugly; Abandonment and forgiveness, love and betrayal--sins of the wayward youth. Where would we be without our mistakes? The risk of love. "All life is performance, and performance is life." Like a play. The ties that bind for better or worse; love always comes with the risk of a broken heart. The question for us all: Can we live without it? Is it worth the risk? Powerful stuff.

What really makes the novel: I thoroughly enjoyed the inspiration behind the novel: As the author quotes in a Q&A and essay.

“It’s not a memoir, but it’s fiction with a lot of memory in it.”

The epigraph — “How accidentally a fate is made . . . or how accidental it all may seem when it is inescapable” — comes from “The Human Stain.” Philip Roth Why that passage?

“I’ve always been fascinated by art and life with how random circumstances can direct our paths. These characters make some pretty reckless choices when they’re young and have to watch the consequences of those choices roll out from there. But when we come to the end of their story, we discover that this was the only way it was ever going to be — all of this had to happen. I thought that line elegantly captured that conundrum.” (see below author essay link)

Tarkington does an exceptional job portraying life in the South during this time period. Fans of Southern authors, John Hart, Pat Conroy, and Wiley Cash will the appreciate intimate relationships between father and sons, a brother's bond, and life in a changing time—At its core, it is a love story. You will be reminded of the works of: William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor. Deeply flawed characters.

In addition to the digital reading copy, I had already pre-ordered the audiobook. Peter Berkrot, is my favorite male narrator, providing an extraordinary performance! A perfect voice for Rocky--adding icing to the cake. What a powerful collaboration.

A perfect title. Highly recommend- cannot wait to see what is next! An author to follow. I have a strong feeling this is only the beginning --to a long line of bestsellers.

Read Author's Essay bit.ly/AuthorEssayET "She had long, straight hair then, parted down the middle, like a young Judy Collins." Love the Judy Collins reference: Judy Collins, now 76, is as creatively vigorous as ever, writing, touring worldwide, and nurturing fresh talent.

A product of the 50's, am proud to be named after this extraordinary woman.

Profile Image for Laura.
822 reviews244 followers
February 26, 2016
The introduction of a murder towards end of the book was odd. Author was attempting a lot of different circumstances in my opinion. The closure of "who done it" was rushed and didn't make complete sense. I did like the narrator from boy to adult. The small romance was a little awkward around chapter 8. Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the song references in most cases.
Profile Image for Innastholiel.
466 reviews60 followers
February 26, 2016
2.5 stars, I think.

Honestly, I don’t really know what to make of this book. The writing is good and engaging, and the story is interesting, if a little slow in the beginning. There aren’t really a lot of sentences that made me roll my eyes, and no one stood out for being any kind of an idiot. So, by all means, it should be a better rating. However, I think my issue is that Only Love Can Break Your Heart brushes so many subjects without ever really focusing on one. I’m just gonna do a list, because that’s easier and more comprehensible:

1. Most of the book is set in the 1970s and 1980s, so I guess you could regard it as historical fiction. Although it doesn’t really strike me as that, because the story is fairly independent of the time it is set in.

2. In the beginning, it seems to be a story about a family, especially focusing on the relationship between Rocky and his older half-brother, Paul.

3. Rocky adores Paul, and Paul adores Rocky, too. In that respect, and considering how the story develops, you could regard Only Love Can Break Your Heart as a comment on heroes and that your perception of someone and their actual personality aren’t always the same, or how you can come to see someone differently as you grow up.

4. After Paul and Lee* vanish, Rocky starts a relationship with Patricia, a woman who is much older than him. So there’s a forbidden, older-woman-younger-man aspect to this.

5. It’s mentioned that Patricia isn’t married and has had a lot of relationships in the past, with both men and women. Which I think may have been somewhat scandalous in the US south, even in the 80s. Anyway, within that paragraph, there’s a passage that made me think Rocky might be bisexual, too, .

6. .

7. .

8. .

9. The school is putting on a production of Equus, and Rocky gets cast as the main character. We read about rehearsals, the other cast members, the teacher, and what Rocky thinks of them and the play.

10. Throughout all that, there’s also Rocky and Paul’s father and , as well as their relationship with him, the sudden loss of the family fortune, Rocky’s friend, Cinnamon, who honestly doesn’t have that much of a personality (but whatever), Patricia and how Rocky sees her, and, generally, just Rocky’s view of the world and his growth from childhood into adulthood. Which, I should probably add, is done well — you can really feel his perception of everyone shift. But it’s still just so much stuff to dump on a reader. And for me, there just isn’t enough of a connection between the various elements, and none of them are explored in enough detail, in my opinion.

11. The last chapter is . I don’t exactly have a problem with that; , but I didn’t really see the point. Which I guess is my problem with the book as a whole.

I think, at its core, this story is about family. It’s really the only overarching theme I can come up with. The problem (for me, anyway) is that so many elements were added to the story that it loses its integrity. It’s like puzzle that remains unassembled. It never comes together for me. And while that sort of story might work for some or even a lot of readers, it doesn’t for me. On the plus side, I really wanna see Equus now.

(* Audiobook, so no idea how to spell any of the names that aren’t mentioned in the description. Best guess only.)
Profile Image for Liz.
191 reviews57 followers
January 27, 2016
I had to let this book settle in my brain for a day before I could write a review. It kinda left me reeling, sort of dazzled and bewildered at the same time, but I’ll do my best to articulate how this book made me feel.

Here’s what I think: Different people are going to take very different things from this book, depending on their own experiences. I think, amazingly enough, this guy has somehow managed to tap into several themes that will reach out to those readers whose lives resonate with them in some way.

Obviously the title theme is rich throughout the book. Truly, the ones that you love are ones who can hurt you the most and to whom you yourself are most vulnerable. Our narrator Rocky is just a kid who adores his older brother Paul, when Paul betrays him and disappears from his life. This book is not just about Rocky and Paul but they are a prime example of betrayal and failing the person you’re supposed to care about.

But beyond that? What stood out to me was the subject of regrets. In later years, do they regret the things they’ve done? What would they change if they could? Over the course of his life Rocky occasionally ponders how his and his family’s lives might be better if he or his brother or even their father had done certain things differently. Ultimately though, I believe it’s Paul who eases his mind in this during a particularly poignant scene near the end (there may have been some tears). One quote from that scene has stuck with me:

“When I look into the eyes of my children, I know that no good can come from regrets. For if even a second of my life before them had been different, my perfect beautiful girls might not exist – or else they would be some other people.”

I just find that so comforting. That everything you go through in life leads you to where you are right now. If you want to be happy then you must believe that it was all worth it.

So that’s where this book took me. It’s really a beautifully written book and I recommend giving it a try. See where it takes you!
Profile Image for Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo.
620 reviews178 followers
February 18, 2016
4.5 Stars

Ed Tarkington's novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, reads like a Pat Conroy Southern Gothic Tragedy. And I love me some good Southern tragedies. Tarkington's prose is beautiful, at times the characters' pain and fear jumps out and touches the heart. The characters are deliciously flawed and I found myself falling in love with Rocky, Paul, and the "damaged" Leigh. Even the minor characters were well developed. My GR friend, Susan and I read this together as a buddy read, and she commented that Only Love Can Break Your Heart a coming of age story. It is, but to me, it's much more.

We have the 2 brothers (actually half brothers) who are about 8 years apart. Rocky adores his big brother, Paul. His "first love" is the same as Paul's - Leigh. The two boys boys are wonderful to and with each other, until they're not. The book blurb says that Paul abandoned Rocky in the woods and then took off. That's not entirely true. Eventually, I could see and relate to both Paul and Rocky's feelings.

Paul was the rebel, the "bad boy" if you will. (And I loved his character! Better than I did Rocky.) After Paul disappears, Rocky begins to act out, becoming the rebel, the bad boy. He allows a much older Patricia Culver to seduce him, carrying out their affair throughout the summer. Unbeknownst to him, a series of events is started that will have dramatic consequences for those people Rocky cares about, and for some he really despises. It's a guarantee that the people of the fictional Spencerville, VA won't be the same by novel's end.

There's a little of everything for a wide spectrum of readers - coming of age story line, family saga, small town life, love affairs, and even murder. I would strongly recommend this to Pat Conroy readers!
Profile Image for RoseMary Achey.
1,357 reviews
January 18, 2016
I picked up this book as the author was compared to Ron Rash....and as many of you know I am a huge Ron Rash fan.

Tarkington speaks with a Southern voice, not an Appalachian Southern narrative as with Rash's work. However, Tarkington succeeds in weaving the reader with the characters in a highly satisfying manner! Each of the characters were distinctive and enjoyable from the somewhat flamboyant drama teacher to the gruff "old man".

Primarily a coming of age story with the added bonus of a mystery thrown in, Only Love Can Break Your Heart will keep you turning the pages.
Profile Image for Valerie.
100 reviews32 followers
January 2, 2016
I won, Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington, in a GoodReads giveaway. I received a trade paperback of minimal but spot-on design, consisting of 307 pages of typical paperback quality, and an open, serifed font with slightly dense margins. Easier-to-read than smaller fonts, with as much on the page as possible.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is billed as an American Gothic tale of Family of fealty, scandal and murder. The story revolves around Rocky, who as a young boy is quite in awe of his older half-brother Paul, until one day a chain of events involving a shooting starts with Paul abandoning Rocky in a forest and ends with the disappearance of Paul and his girlfriend. The long story-arch and fall-out from these events will intertwine neighbors, friends and family and the town they live in for years to come.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is, quite simply, the reason that we read. It is the sparkly bit of treasure found along the shoreline, the needle in the haystack, that rare moment when, unawares, you’ve stumbled into an instant classic. The characters are all familiar, and known to us, and I loved each one of them not because they were each great, but because they were each real, whole and complete - charm, faults and all. The writing is finely crafted and perfectly pitched as a 70’s family saga, with small-town drama and an eye for consequence. Realistic and naturally paced, I very comfortably fell into Only Love Can Break Your Heart and devoured it in an evening of delightful reading.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is Ed Tarkington’s debut novel, but he brings to the table a writer’s resume including a PhD from the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Florida State. As a Novel it is an excellent example of American literature and deserves very high marks for concept, character and composition. As an introduction, it is a brilliant moment of discovery and pleasure.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a must read for bookworms and literaturephiles everywhere.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
558 reviews27 followers
March 10, 2016
I'm so glad to be done with this book. The summary is misleading.

This is a coming of age story about Richard "Rocky" Askew who adores his older brother Paul and Paul's girlfriend Leigh. The story spans a lifetime but focuses on Rocky's version of a lifetime of events which include his almost death at the hands of the brother he worships, the disappearance of his brother for 7 years, a grotesque fling he has with an older woman and the murder of the next door neighbors.

This book is quite ridiculous and disappointing in that I was looking forward to reading it but I was just not impressed with the story at all. The writing is well done but everything else about the book is just blah.

Rocky is supposed to be a sympathetic character but I didn't like him and I felt like he was extremely naive in every way, shape and form.

The main issue I had with the book was the timeline and some of the pacing. The bulk of the book is a 7 year time frame and it felt more like 10-15 years.

The second issue I have is that the murder mystery happens during the last 10 chapters of the book and everything is wrapped up so briskly that I feel like the author just threw that together to add yet one more element to an already cobbled together coming of age story.

I mean this book has murder, rape, incest, cults, religious fanatics, metal heath issues, greed, seduction/rape of a minor, old southern sensibilities and an almost full on version of the play Equus.

Anyway, I wanted this book to be spectacular, I even moved it a head of a ton of other books I plan to read and all I got was this dumb t-shirt.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,276 reviews558 followers
February 25, 2016
The writing quality was a 4. The first 1/3rd of the book brisk, interesting- pulled me right in. I was super interested in Rocky and especially with his adoration and storyline relationship to his brother, Paul.

And then "stuff" happens. More and more and more. As if a soap opera of 18 episodes and 3 generations time has become condensed into 6 episodes and 10 years time. Cartoon? No, not really- it seemed more "true" than a cartoon. But what genre? First it seemed like a modern dysfunctional family a la' Genova or Picoult or one of those like bunch. But no. Then it gets raunchy. Then more perverse. More dilemmas and shock scenes than a final season episode of "Vikings"? Cults, crazy people, duplicity crossed with perversion, murder. And otherwise added ceremonial mayhem.

It just became a joke. From the midpoint on, I had absolutely no interest in any of the characters. Not even the pivotal ones that were not even introduced until there had already been 160 plus pages of sneaky low life shenanigans.

After I finished, I realized that there was not one decent or good intent person to motive or outcome in this entire book. Did it tell me anything about a small Virginia location? Well, just a bit.

I'm sorry I didn't dump this one about page 180. And I am not surprised to see the ratings here, because the writing and the character development of the first half is surprisingly good. But the book as a whole? Not one piece or message or progression, IMHO. Rather a hot mess to sell some hot musings plus smooth language style.
Profile Image for Veronica .
74 reviews
March 10, 2016
I finished this yesterday & I put 3 stars but really should be a 2.5. This story is about Rocky and his family that live in a suburb. Rocky idolizes his brother and his music at the tender age of 8 but Paul, Rocky's brother, suddenly leaves town with no one knowing his whereabouts. He leaves his father and brother wondering where could he be, is he alive even? Years go by and we follow Rocky growing up to be a teenager, he gets involved with a older woman who's family owns this massive mansion in town that has a history itself.

I felt this book tried to cram in way to many plot's, missing brother, teenager coming of age, ailing father, relationship issues, murder? it was all much try hard. I keep thru with it because I wanted to really know what ended up with his brother, which it kinda explained...I don't know it wasn't my kind of book in the end but it won't let me not want to read anything from this author. I just wanted more....
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Debbie.
817 reviews13 followers
February 29, 2020
Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the coming-of-age story of Rocky Askew in Virginia during the late 1970’s. Rocky’s troubled older brother Paul and his girlfriend Leigh disappear when Rocky is 8 years old. The book has three parts – Paul’s disappearance, Paul’s reappearance and The Murders. The entire plot seemed very predictable and I had a hard time encouraging myself to go ahead and finish. I did enjoy all the music references – obviously Ed Tarkington is a fan of classic rock!
I think this might have been a more exciting and interesting book if it had been told from Paul’s point of view. Only brief details are given for the time he and his girlfriend lived out west in a commune. Even the murders did little to liven up this story.

Profile Image for Katherine.
379 reviews53 followers
February 10, 2016
Algonquin bring us another great debut, introducing Ed Tarkington with his first novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart. A simple, pure family saga, a coming of age story, a tragic love story and a chilling murder mystery, it has a bit of something to please everyone.

We were coming of age in the late seventies, at the sweaty, nauseous, split-headed peak of the hangover between Watergate and “Morning in America.” For nearly a decade, our parents and their peers had watched horrified as the far-flung corners of the world burst into flames on their brand-new, first-ever color TVs.

Seven-year-old Rocky idolizes Paul, his rebellious half-brother. However, when Paul kidnaps Rocky and leaves him to die in the woods, that illusion is shattered, and Rocky finds himself caught between the idolized memories of his brother, and the reality of what Paul has done to him. Years later, having grown to puberty with the specter of his absent brother looming over his every move, a brutal crime brings Paul back to Spencerville, forcing them to face the past, and unravel a family history full of dark secrets.

I whispered his name. I was sure that I had missed him in the darkness, or that he had merely stepped from my field of vision. Lifting my head, I looked up and down and sideways. I howled his name and listened to it echo back to me from across the gap. I cried out again and again until, panting, I put my head back to the rock, listening to the echoes of my cries trickling off into silence.

I love reading new authors. Although I have my regular favourites, reading a new author is such a breath of fresh air; instead of the same formulaic patterns and plots that even the best writers fall into, here is a perspective you’ve never encountered before, described in words you haven’t seen together. Ed Tarkington’s voice has a kind of muted richness to it. He builds up the tension in the descriptions of simple movements, or a picture of a pair of trees, and revisits those images, slightly shifting them each time as the events in the story affect the narrator and he sees them differently. He builds a layered, nuanced relationship between Rocky, Paul and their Old Man. Every word has power.

I saw every victory and every failure, all up to the final, crushing blow that had left him bound to the prison of his ruined mind. What I saw – what I sensed but could not yet comprehend – was the arc of a life that was not just the rise and fall of a small, forgettable man, but the story of the American Century: its booms and busts, its catastrophes and regenerations, its fortunes built up from sweat and moxie only to be dashed by bad luck and bad choices, its false hopes and promises broken by the plain fact that we are all mere antic clay, bedeviled by the mystery that animates us.

As the story builds over the period of a childhood, the reader watches Rocky grow up and move from idolizing his brother to living with the shame of his brother’s actions, as Paul’s destructive nature affects those around him. I thought it was interesting that the story was told from Rocky’s point of view, as, for the most part, he is a bystander to much of what happens and can only guess at others’ motives. It was an effective way of keeping narrative suspense going, and slowly revealing the pieces of the puzzle of how his family is torn apart.

I wondered whether, at that very moment, Leigh Bowman sat huddling in the corner of some padded cell, dressed in a straitjacket, dosed up to her eyeballs with tranquilizers, swimming toward the receding dream of another life.

I suppose your enjoyment of this book will derive from what you think it is trying to do. As a murder-mystery, there is not really enough tension to keep it thrilling, and the whodunnit aspect is a little lacking, as it’s quite quickly resolved. The plot is a tad melodramatic as well. On the contrary, as a bildungsroman it is brilliant, showing how Rocky moves from passively moving through his life to taking an active role in it, and moving from loving an idolized version of his brother to understanding the real person behind the actions. His own growth is very subtly conveyed, and the understandings he comes to about life, love, relationships and boyhood are sincere and profound.

At some point, every boy feels the urge to lash out at something, to be cruel and violent, to curse the world for its frail humanity. But only a few have the will – be it born of courage or recklessness, folly or sublime wisdom – to act and, by their action, transform themselves. They will pay for their courage, of course; the world does not treat its others lightly. But so will the rest of us – the ones who love them – haunted as we are by our envy of their bright, burning beauty, which we can bear neither to look at nor to turn away from.

In the end, however, this book is a love story. It’s not necessarily a romantic love story, but rather the story of love between brothers, and its enduring power. Sure, there is a bit of romance too, but it’s not core to the plot. I wasn’t mad about the narrator recounting entire plots of books and plays within the story, however relevant they were to this story – it felt a bit labored, like filler. Overall, I thought this was a great debut, and I think Tarkington’s style is the best thing about it. I look forward to reading his next novel, All the Winters After, which is expected in April.
Profile Image for Alecia.
Author 3 books35 followers
January 25, 2016
This is one of those times that I feel as if I read a different book than the one that garnered all those glowing reviews on Goodreads. I found the writing, although not bad, rather bland. And the coming of age story, narrated by Rocky at various ages, has been done much better before.

Rocky adores his older half brother, Paul. But Paul is troubled, and continually gets into trouble. There is a long, convoluted, strangely plotted story that takes Rocky through his adolescence (and Paul's disappearance) and includes a murder, and Rocky's sexual initiation by his much older female neighbor. There is not much tension evoked, and some of the plot lines did not seem to add anything to the novel.

I was left unmoved and barely motivated to finish this. But, since so many other readers have enjoyed it, it might be worth a try.
Profile Image for Tisa.
285 reviews2 followers
January 18, 2016
I'm a sucker for a debut novel published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. They have published some of my most treasured authors, and Ed Taekington is on his way to becoming one. This novel is a coming-of-age story told as a memory of the now-grown 8yo boy whose half-brother was the center of his universe. The plot contains elements of a Southern Gothic, Southern humor, family relationships, mores, music, and sex. The unpretentious language and plain, everyday lives give this novel a realistic, believable feel. The events and people are ones we can recognize from our own lives or from people we've known. Their struggles are real. There are surprises, losses, heartbreak, and joy. "Only Love" is a very good read.
Profile Image for Mindy.
312 reviews38 followers
March 18, 2016

I am such a sucker for a coming of age story! This is that and so much more. The author is a magnificent storyteller. I just fell into this story and did not want to come out. I seriously could not put this down once I got into it.

2016 MacHalo Challenge : A 2016 new release
Profile Image for Greg Zimmerman.
805 reviews171 followers
February 20, 2016
A soft 4, but 4 nonetheless - great characters, great story, great voice. A few questionable plot points, and a few too many cliches. Overall, an enjoyable, fast read.
Profile Image for Kaytlin Henderson.
125 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2018
I struggle once again to rate a book I've read this year. I went into this book knowing nothing. I saw a quick blurb from NPR and got the feeling that there was a bit of a thriller/suspense in this book. Well, it takes a while to get to the more dramatic parts, in my opinion. I suppose there's one bit in Part One that could be considered suspenseful, but due to the perspective the book is told from, you lose some of the feeling of suspense.

I was on a plane and someone asked me what I was reading (yeah, don't you just hate that?!), and I had just finished Part One. I didn't know how to even describe the book at that point. Part of that was my confusion on thinking this would be much more suspenseful (probably my own fault, and maybe my lack of understanding about what a gothic novel is?), but also, I just felt like it was all exposition. Perhaps that's because it's told by our main character, Richard, as he is much older, looking back on his life, but again, I just didn't feel like the book was going anywhere until about the last 20%.

I still enjoyed the story, and I look back at different pieces and appreciated reading it, hence getting a middle of the road star rating.
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