“Tarkington's debut novel feels positively Shakespearean in its sense of family dynamics and the sometimes destructive power of love, but it speaks with the deceptively plain, poignant language of a Neil Young song. Set in the 1980s in a small Virginia town, the book tells the coming-of-age story of Rocky Askew as he copes with fraternal abandonment, dangerous liaisons, caregiving, and one town scandal after another with little help other than his brother Paul's old vinyl collection. Only Love Can Break Your Heart speaks to anybody working to function, however imperfectly, in any type of family.”
— Andrew Hedglin (W), Lemuria Bookstore, Jackson, MS
Ed Tarkington's debut novel draws you into a small-town American Gothic story of coming-of-age, brotherhood, and family fealty, first love, scandal, and murder. In Virginia in the 1930s, 6-year-old Rocky lives in awe of Paul, his juvenile delinquent older brother, until Paul disappears with his delicate girlfriend Leigh. Nine years later we find a teenage Rocky discovering first love (and first sex) with the neighbors' daughter, trying to come into his own, discovering his own talents, when Leigh returns, more unstable than ever and full of secrets. Eventually, when their elderly father falls ill, Paul returns to find a town -- and a family -- that cannot trust him. Just as the brothers begin to reclaim what was lost, a brutal murder threatens everything.