Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Ed Tarkington kicks off his first novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, with a ghost, a gun and an abandoned, white-pillared Southern mansion called Twin Oaks. He wraps it up with a grisly double murder in the same place. In between, his story touches on nearly every benchmark of good Southern Gothic literature: violence, sex, money, sibling rivalry, antipsychotic drugs, incest, abortion, religious fanaticism and plenty of alcohol. Set in the '70s and '80s, the narrative rides along on a soundtrack of the era: "Steely Dan, Zeppelin, the Who, Dylan, Rod Stewart... beneath the holy trinity of John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Neil Young." There is even an uninhibited teen daughter of hippie parents named Cinnamon (after Young's "Cinnamon Girl") who "appeared to subsist on cigarettes, MoonPies, and Doritos... [and] eschewed bras... testing the limits of a dozen different perfectly aged concert T-shirts."

Tarkington clearly gets the ambience of the epoch as it filters life in his fictional northern Virginia small town of Spencerville. More importantly, he tells his story with the confident ease of Dickens in Great Expectations. Narrated by Richard "Rocky" Askew, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the story of his early adoration of his older, chain-smoking, juvenile delinquent half-brother, Paul; his ambivalence toward his strict, gentry-aspiring father he calls the "Old Man"; and his touchy relationship with his mousy, Bible-reading mother, Alice. Navigating the roller-coaster fortunes of the Askew family and Spencerville, Rocky is the voice of candor and insight that holds Tarkington's ambitious tale together--both the Pip and Neil Young (as it were) of his generation. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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