Interview with Ed Tarkington, Author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart
03 Feb 2016
It’s sort of a mash-up of Cain and Abel, the Prodigal Son, The Graduate, Helter Skelter, and “A Rose for Emily,” set in the small-town Upper South, with a soundtrack by Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
More seriously: I think this book is a unique variation on the domestic novel in that it approaches a deceptively broad variety of forms and relationships in the fairly precise and familiar space of the Southern small-town family drama. It is a first-person coming-of-age novel, but it is also a Gothic tale with macabre undertones, a murder mystery in which the damsel-in-distress is also a suspect, a story of fathers and sons and brothers, of love and betrayal and reconciliation, and a time-capsule view of the imperiled American middle class at a point in history which in some ways foreshadows our current cultural moment. Most of all, it is as emotionally honest as anything I’ve ever written, which I’m told is its greatest strength.
What’s rocking your world this month?
Well, I’m pretty excited about my debut novel being published, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m probably more hyped up about the new Star Wars movie.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
I think Toni Morrison is our greatest living writer; I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to bask in the glow of her genius. Walker Percy, one of my great heroes, was reputed to be a charming dinner companion, and is responsible for the best bourbon cocktail recipe I’ve ever tasted. Lastly, I’d love to sit down with Ken Kesey, and hope he would bring along a pot of his famous venison chili.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
With my children. They are still small and perpetually full of joy. I never tire of listening to them laugh. Plus it won’t be long before they become teenagers and want nothing to do with me.
Who is your favorite fictional character from literature?
Like his creator, T.S. Garp shares two of my greatest passions: writing and wrestling. From Garp, I have learned about lunacy and sorrow, what it means to live with energy, and, most importantly, how to embrace difference.
Who was your childhood hero?
If you’d asked me then, I’d say Ralph Sampson, #50 for the Virginia Cavaliers, greatest center in the history of NCAA basketball (sorry, Kareem). Ask me today, and I’ll tell you that it was always my father, Ed Tarkington, Sr., who was far from perfect but never quit trying.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from Only Love Can Break Your Heart?
“At some point, every boy feels the urge to lash out at something, to be cruel and violent, to curse the world for its frail humanity. But only a few have the will — be it born of courage or recklessness, folly or sublime wisdom — to act and, by their action, transform themselves. They will pay for their courage, of course; the world does not treat its others lightly. But so will the rest of us — the ones who love them — haunted as we are by our envy of their bright, burning beauty, which we can bear neither to look at nor to turn away from.”
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
“Half my life is an act of revision.” – John Irving
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