Cost (Thorndike Reviewers' Choice)

By Roxana Robinson
Publisher:Thorndike Press, (2/4/2009)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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Julia Lambert, an artist, is spending the summer in her old Maine farmhouse. During a visit from her elderly parents, she hopes to mend complicated relationships with her domineering father, a retired neurosurgeon, and her gentle mother, who is descending into the fog of Alzheimer's. But a shattering revelation intrudes: Julia's son, Jack, has spiraled into heroin addiction. In her attempts to save him, Julia marshals help from her loosely knit clan, but Jack's addiction courses through the family with a devastating energy, sweeping them all into a world of confusion, fear, and obsession. In Cost, Roxana Robinson applies her "trademark gifts as an intelligent, sensitive analyst of family life" and creates a "warmly human and deeply satisfying book, marking a new level of ambition and achievement for this talented author" (Chicago Tribune).

Roxana Robinson is the author of four novels and three short-story collections, as well as a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, Best American Short Stories, and Vogue, among other publications. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. She teaches at the New School in New York.

Longlisted for the International IMPAC Literary Award
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Named a 'Good Read' by the National Book Critics Circle
A Washington Post Top Five Book of the Year
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
A Library Journal Best Book of the Year
In Cost, Roxana Robinson tackles addiction and explores its effects on the bonds of family with her hallmark subtlety and precision in evoking the emotional interiors of her characters. The result is a work in which the reader’s compassion for every character remains unflagging to the end.

When Julia Lambert, an art professor, settles into her idyllic Maine house for the summer, she plans to spend the time tending her fragile relationships with her father, a repressive neurosurgeon, and her gentle mother, who is descending into Alzheimer’s. But a shattering revelation intrudes: Julia’s son Jack has spiraled into heroin addiction.

In an attempt to save him, Julia marshals help from her looseknit clan: elderly parents; remarried ex-husband; removed sister; and combative eldest son. Ultimately, heroin courses through the characters’ lives with an impersonal and devastating energy, sweeping the family into a world in which deceit, crime, and fear are part of daily life.
"Robinson’s fourth novel is an engrossing tale of a patrician family’s unraveling during a summer in Maine. Julia Lambert is a divorced artist, trying to entertain her oppressive, former neurosurgeon father (he points out everything that’s wrong with his daughter’s run-down cabin) and her self-effacing mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Julia’s elder son suspects that his younger brother, Jack, is a heroin addict, and when this turns out to be true an intervention is staged. The family’s ugly, dysfunctional history pours out in the process, in sharp contrast with the halcyon setting. Robinson moves nimbly among the numerous characters’ mind-sets, and although Julia’s meditations on 'the long tradition of luminist painting' can drag, Jack’s story maintains its tension until the final, affecting pages."—The New Yorker

"Cost is unusual for being as plot-driven as it is character-driven, and the assured manner in which Robinson builds toward the inevitable train wreck is matched by her acuity in bringing us inside the characters’ minds . . . [Julia] gains the strength not only to bear a grievous separation from her younger son but, more significant, to question the separations she has imposed on the most intimate relationships in her life. Why, she wonders, has she done this? . . .  Robinson has already shown us why, having exhumed the many reasons in the preceding pages. But the question remains worth asking, not only by Julia but by any of these characters—by anyone, period, still struggling to connect.  With the novel’s final words, which made me catch my breath, Robinson suggests the enormous stakes involved in pursuing the answer."—The New York Times Book Review

"Scarily good . . . I've never read such a spot-on description of the mingled feelings of affection and frustration one feels for one's parents as Robinson spins out here with sometimes comic effect . . . One of our best writers."—The Washington Post

"Cost is both lyrical and unsentimental, richly honest and humane—summer reading of uncommon stature."—The Wall Street Journal

"Set mostly in a Maine summerhouse more charming than functional, this is a strikingly realistic, psychologically astute study of family relations in modern America's educated class. As in a family itself, competing perceptions of events past and present crowd the pages. Self-involved preoccupations overwhelm many touching moments of understanding; defensive postures become hurtful habits nearly impossible to shift. But when compared with the single-minded obsession of the younger son, whose heroin addiction organizes the plot, the degree to which the rest of the characters value and care for one another, despite their normal measure of self-interest, is arresting. Robinson gracefully launches and bolsters her psychological insights with concrete details of her settings. As always, she writes with impressive polish at both the sentence and structural levels."—The Atlantic Monthly

"Cost is such an apt title for the latest book of novelist and Mount Desert summer resident Roxana Robinson. In the novel, much of which is set in Maine, the cost to Julia Lambert, the protagonist, and to her immediate and extended family of her son Jack’s heroin addiction cannot be quantified, nor can the cost of the alienation between Julia and her aging parents. In reading this novel—even when some of the details made me uncomfortable—I cannot ignore how Robinson’s characters exemplify people I know and how perceptively she depicts them. As the plot unfolds, the reader slowly realizes not only that the costs are searing and exist on so many levels—psychological, emotional, financial, physiological—but also that various characters in their interior monologues frequently allude to 'risk.' And taking risks incurs costs. Robinson’s mastery of the interior monologue gives the narrative depth and intimacy. One identifies with the character and intuits what may occur. While Jack’s heroin addiction is not immediately known, the reminiscences of his parents, brother and grandparents’ throughout the novel reveal that Jack has always courted trouble. ‘Jack always went too far. His exploits were too perilous, the risks always too great,’ recalls Steven, his older brother. But the costs in the novel extend beyond the cost of heroin addiction and alienation. There are the emotional costs of losing a beloved son, and there are the physical, mental and emotional costs of aging. Robinson effectively portrays these costs, particularly in her characterization of Julia and Katharine, Julia’s 86-year-old mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s . . . In a recent interview, Robinson said that a novelist must have compassion for her characters, and in Cost, which was a Spring 2008 ‘Recommended Reads’ by the National Book Critics Circle, that compassion is in evidence everywhere."—Anne Kozak, Mount Desert Islander

“A sense of decline—that's the first thing you feel in Roxana Robinson's fourth novel. There's an unrelenting, inevitable sense of things marching downhill: elderly parents, old houses, relationships . . . With its New England setting, a family gathering, an addiction crisis, it might suggest some ponderous Eugene O'Neill play, but Robinson’s novel actually feels more like a contemporary movie. In one nail-biting scene, the brothers fight in a small rowboat at night without lights, lifejackets, or paddles, and begin drifting out to sea. Why bother with such a sad story? One reason is Robinson's beautiful, haunting style. Though primarily told from a mother's point of view, she allows us inside all of the characters’ heads and hearts, where much is revealed. The Lambert family is a complex, conflicted bunch, flawed, yet sympathetic human beings who will get under your skin like a junkie's needle.”—Carol O'Sullivan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

"Many of the casualties of addiction are hidden from view. Roxanna Robinson's new novel explores the collateral damage—specifically, its impact on families—with a deeply felt compassion, as she tells the story of a mother wrestling with the inner demons that haunt her youngest son . . . Robinson, author of Sweetwater, other well-received novels and a short story collection, delineates the tension in the worlds of her conflicted characters in absorbing, descriptive scenes. She reveals all the recriminations, self-blame and guilt of addiction's progress as the family members slowly realize how difficult it is to save another. In the end, it is Robinson's compassion for each of her characters that remains. Sometimes, compassion is the only offering possible."—...

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Lizzy's thoughts on "Cost (Thorndike Reviewers' Choice)"
updated on:8/12/2010

Very Unleashable

"Cost (Thorndike Reviewers' Choice)"
By Roxana Robinson

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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