Praise for Only Love Can Break Your Heart:

“A lush mystery-within-a-coming-of-age-tale-within-a-Southern-Gothic. If a book could have an Instagram filter, Tarkington’s would be set on something called ‘Nostalgic’ . . . interesting, readable and beautifully written.”—NPR Books

“A clear winnera taut, engrossing, crisply written tale of loss and abiding love.”Charlotte Observer

“I’ve heard it said that all good fiction is about blood, love, or money. If that’s true, then Ed Tarkington has hit the trifecta with his soulful first novel . . . plainspoken yet elegant prose, with a heavy dash of good old-fashioned storytelling . . . And if it’s true that only love can break our hearts—as we’re reminded often in these pages—Tarkington also makes the case that only love can put us back together again. You’ll believe both things are true by the end of this novel.”—Peter Geye, author of The Lighthouse Road, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Set against the backbeat of classic rock hits of the 1970s, Ed Tarkington's pitch-perfect first novel pays tribute to music, love and growing up in small-town America. That Tarkington throws in illicit sex, a perverted cult leader and a multiple murder only enhances the novel's hypnotic grip on its readers.”- Chicago Tribune

"William Faulkner once said there is nothing worth writing about other than love, money and death. Tarkington must have been taking notes.  Read the first chapter of this novel. You will not put it down." - Ellis Purdie, Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“Tarkington’s writing is talky, devoid of flash, and calls to mind a young Pat Conroy . . . propulsion is its primary attribute. Not mere plot propulsion—though there’s plenty of that, especially after the corpses turn up—but emotional propulsion: Tarkington’s fidelity to period and place is matched by his fidelity to human contradictions, to the gray area between heroism and villainy in which most of us reside. The gothic elements add spice, but the protein in this assured debut—the part that sticks to your ribs—is the beautiful but ever-threatened connection between Rocky and Paul. Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a novel about brotherhood, most of all, about the delicate fortress of that bond.” —Garden & Gun

“This heartbreakingly effective coming-of-age story about the importance of love in one’s life is replete with moments of harsh cruelty and tender love. Beautifully written....Readers will stop and reread paragraphs, not because of confusion but for the pure joy of the language . . . Fans of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help will embrace debut author Tarkington’s depiction of Southern life at a time of changing social mores. Most of all, readers who can’t get enough of Wiley Cash, Ron Rash, and Brian Panowich will delight in discovering this fine new writer.” —Library Journal, starred review

“A coming-of-age story that evolves into a whodunit with tangled roots in three families whose lives collide in 1977... [a] well-plotted, generous inquiry into the intricacies of the human heart — especially the broken variety ... Secrets abound, imaginations run wild ...”—Atlanta Journal Constitution

“This is a wonderful novel about a small Southern town and love within, and outside of, families. It is not a typical coming-of-age story.”—Daily American (Somerset, PA)

“A rich, moody, moving novel about growing up and growing old before your time. Tarkington’s people are rakes, rascals, irascible losers, femme fatales, rich buffoons, dunderheads, beautiful loons, and one very cool dude, all balanced by the voice of a narrator you come to love as much as he loves his doomed older brother. On top of all that, it’s a very fun, deeply satisfying, page-turner of a book.” —Brad Watson, author of The Heaven of Mercury and Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

“Well-written and observed  . . . Tarkington carefully lays out his elaborate storyline and sensitively depicts his troubled characters.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Welcome to small town, late 1970s, old money Virginia where teenagers can still roam wild and free. Ed Tarkington’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart brilliantly explores the winding roads and cul-de-sacs of love, especially the troubled and troubling bond between two step-brothers, Paul and Rocky Askew. Narrated by Rocky, the younger of the two, in a voice that is beguiling and wise, this addictive tale of abandonment and forgiveness will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.”—Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

“A wonderful, beauty-haunted piece of work.  Tarkington’s voice in his hard-to-put-down debut novel has a timeless feel to its cadences, the same bittersweet music we hear in the storytelling of the best of our Southern writers who remind us how hard the world can be for dreamers.”—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

“A reader need not be a disciple of rock legend Neil Young to find that Only Love Can Break Your Heart strikes a nostalgic chord. But for those of us who appreciate Young’s immense musical gifts, Ed Tarkington’s debut novel will likely prove twice as harmonious. In many ways a classic coming-of-age story, the novel also digs deep into the loamy depths of the modern Southern Gothic genre, circa 1970s . . . Tarkington’s impressive first novel achieves every author’s goal: Once you start reading, you can’t stop. And as an added bonus for Neil Young fans, Tarkington’s riveting tale provides plenty of classic rock riffs, too.”—BookPage

“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 . . . he tells his story with the confident ease of Dickens in Great Expectations . . . an accomplished, confident coming-of-age story in the Southern Gothic tradition”—Shelf Awareness for Readers

“Well-written and observed  . . . Tarkington carefully lays out his elaborate storyline and sensitively depicts his troubled characters.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A grisly and suspenseful debut novel.”—Nashville Lifestyles 

“Tarkington’s childhood was accompanied by the sounds of classic rock . . . and now it’s at the heart of his debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a story of love, loyalty, murder and vinyl.”—The Tennessean (Nashville)


“I’m speechless.  I don’t remember the last debut novel that kept me turning pages enthralled.  Only Love Can Break Your Heart is part The Graduate, part southern gothic dysfunctional family, part Edisto, part The Moviegoer.  It’s all Ed Tarkington, though.  Funny, desperate, sad, tender, suspenseful, intelligent, insightful, and full of nothing but heart, heart, heart.” – George Singleton, author of Between Wrecks and The Half-Mammals of Dixie


“Ed Tarkington’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart harkens back to predecessors such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees . . . At the core of this small-town Southern story there are universal truths that transcend regionalism. If not for the crackling emotion powering this traditional bildungsroman—the loss of love to death and time, the struggle to find and keep a home, the confusion and despair of growing up—its straightforward prose might fall flat. From the opening page of Only Love Can Break Your Heart to the wrenching last, human relationships remain the narrative’s most compelling force  . . .Yes, this is a novel about love, but not just the romantic kind. It’s an ode to love in all of its complicated forms: between estranged brothers, between fathers and prodigal sons, between a boy and his hometown.” Amy Greene, New York Times bestselling author of Bloodroot , for Chapter16.org (Nashville)



“Tarkington’s debut novel is an elegant bildungsroman that lays open the strange and dangerous world of old-money and new-money Virginians, and those who exist between these worlds and who are often trapped between them.  The depiction of these people, places, and culture is spot-on and Tarkington’s love for the greatest state in the union warms this tale.  Humming in the background is a soundtrack for the glory days of rock and roll, as young Rocky drops the needle on another Neil Young album, creating a tender paean for the romantic and doomed nostalgics from a previous generation who carry this music into the present and future. The plot turns along family strife, naked desire, and sometimes violent treachery, but at its core Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a love story that just might break your heart, too.”—Matt Bondurant, author of The Night Swimmer and The Wettest County in the World

"Tarkington’s prose is effortlessly smooth, almost disappearing into itself, making an engrossing and surprisingly comfortable read. Rocky’s voice becomes our own, his confusion ours, and his yearning to love and be loved an echo of what it means to be young. Tarkington succeeds in a difficult dance, creating a story that is at once bizarre and utterly familiar. He asks us to remember that we are all trying desperately to be loved, often failing, but trying." - Erika Swyler, Washington Independent Review of Books

"Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the 195th book I’ve read this year. Out of those 195, I’ve only handed out a handful of 5 Star ratings. I don’t know what it was about this novel that sucked me in, but boy did it and I couldn’t put it down ... Hot damn but the fella can write!" - 52 Book Minimum Blog

"From beginning to end, the plotline is intense, never flagging. From the bleeding heart Tarkington stitches on Rocky’s sleeve there arises both scandal and rivalry, along with a touch of the paranormal and religious faith." --Booklist

 “Ed Tarkington’s first novel manages an expert narrative feat—it is somehow both ruminative and remarkably suspenseful. A novel of family and love and class, of beautiful youth and terrible consequences. And of heartbreak, of course, as the title makes plain and life makes inescapable. Readers will be born along on the strength and clarity of Tarkington’s prose, the twists and pivots of his plot. Only Love Can Break the Heart is a truly auspicious debut.”—Michael Knight, author of The Typist