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Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington

Only Love Can Break Your HeartLife is relatively easy for eight-year-old Rocky in sleepy 1970s Spencerville, located in the foothills of Virginia.  What makes things fun and sometimes dangerous is tagging along with his older half-brother Paul, whom Rocky adores.  Paul personifies teenage rebellion.  He smokes nonstop, drives recklessly and fast, and best of all – at least to Rocky – has a sharp ear for post-1960s rock music.  Neil Young is a personal favorite of the two.

Paul is in love with Leigh Bowman at the time.  When she leaves for college and presumably begins a different life, Paul gets a little crazy in the head – enough to abandon his little brother briefly out in the country, and then disappear with Leigh entirely.  She comes back several months later, distraught and with a story of her own, but without Paul.  Her father, never a fan of Paul’s and ever cautious of his family’s standing in the community, has Leigh committed.

The story jumps ahead several years, when Rocky is fifteen and meets Patricia, the adult daughter of their rich neighbors.  A sordid and short-lived romance blooms, but Patricia breaks it off before their affair becomes a scandal.  After all, Rocky is still a minor, and Patricia has bigger issues at hand, one being Leigh Bowman’s eminent wedding to her older brother.  The rumors have been flying about Leigh’s mental stability, or lack thereof, so anything can happen, and does – and in the aftermath, all parties involved bear the brunt of fate.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart could have quickly devolved into clichéd Southern Gothic, but thankfully, it really doesn’t.  Throughout, the book remained a page-turner, with enough plot twists to keep things going.  You genuinely long with Rocky for his older brother to return,  and for the fragile individuals in the book not to suffer, and several here become more fragile as the book goes on.   Also, the author writes engagingly, with some great turns of descriptive phrase that from time to time had me re-reading them.  I really hated for the book to end.

The resonance of the book was the memories it invoked – of being young in a small town in the 1970s, and having older siblings who did crazy things and listened to the “cool” music.

(William Hicks, Information Services)






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