Reviews > Published on January 5th, 2016

Bookshots: 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' by Ed Tarkington

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Who wrote it?

What may seem like a grab bag of characters and incidents...turns out to be a beautifully crafted, enormously entertaining novel.

Ed Tarkington

Plot in a Box:

Eight-year-old Rocky loves his older brother, Paul, but has second thoughts after Paul abandons him in the deep, lonely woods.

Invent a new title for this book:

Rocky in the Free World

Read this if you like:

Both J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee

Meet the book’s lead(s):

Rocky, who gets his nickname from a passing resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, and who we get to know as an eight-year-old and then as a fifteen-year-old.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Two young Disney stars I’ve never heard of

Setting: would you want to live there?

No. It’s set in Yokelsville, Virginia, which sounds wretched.

What was your favorite sentence?

All the industrial-strength antiseptic cleaners in the world can’t purge the stench of oily, pimpled, hormone-charged vileness that permeates the halls of public high schools. The funk hangs in the air like a green mist, almost visibly wafting from the vents of the lockers lining the walls. It is an honest odor; human beings are, after all, a fairly wretched lot.

The Verdict:

Only Love Can Break Your Heart takes its title from a hauntingly simple Neil Young song – the kind of music brothers Rocky and Paul listen to compulsively. It’s part Southern Gothic novel, part coming of age novel, and all terrifically well told. The author, Ed Tarkington, captures the twisty, ropelike bond called fraternal love and turns it malevolent for a time, only to unspool more of it, honor its ambivalence, and ultimately redeem it.

What may seem like a grab bag of characters and incidents – Rocky’s out-of-nowhere abduction and abandonment, Paul’s dangerously loopy girlfriend, a thirty-year-old horse freak who the fifteen-year-old Rocky repeatedly gets to fuck, a double murder involving Satan worship, a most unlikely public high school production of Equus – turns out to be a beautifully crafted, enormously entertaining novel.

Given how much I loved reading this book, I feel a bit churlish complaining that the ending provides much-too-easy answers to the troubling questions the novel raises. But the fact is, I couldn’t put it down. Only Love Can Break Your Heart is masterful storytelling. I loved it.

About the author

Ed Sikov is the author of 7 books about films and filmmakers, including On Sunset Boulevard:; The Life and Times of Billy Wilder; Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers; and Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: