People often say that the more flawed books are both the most captivating and readable. It comes from the principle that humans are flawed and while a perfectly written set of characters who have no personal defects may be fun to read, they are not relatable. In order to get an audience emotionally invested in a book, they have to be relatable, loveable, make mistakes and have the reader yelling “No, don’t do it!” at the pages and shedding tears over the mistakes of fictional characters.
These statements are all met for the debut novel by Ed Tarkington titled Only Love Can Break Your Heart. This story within a story is a Southern gothic coming of age tale turned mystery set in oodles of nostalgia and charm. Our narrator takes form of an 8-year old boy named Rocky Askew, who is right in the middle of a social storm involving his family and dark forces during the 70’s and 80’s.
There are frequent, rather formulaic mishaps followed by frequently used stock characters that turn up in the story and even more frequent references to music. In fact sometimes, there’s so much “muchness” that the reader will not know why it is going on. Though in his defense, many debuts are flawed and the virtues of the book far outweigh them. Tarkington’s flow of verse is a beauty to behold and during the later parts of the book, the now adult Rocky helps tie together many of the later events and earlier ones with experience but also the nostalgia that runs deep throughout the book.
One of the most exemplary parts of the novel is the fact that though it is a mystery novel, in contrast to the days of his hormone-driven youth, Rocky’s moral compass as an adult remains steadfast. His trust in the other characters and big heartedness through the gory double homicide that happens during the latter part of the book would have been suspicious in the hands of another writer. Though considered a mystery, to tack on such a simple term to it is not as simply done.