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Cost: A Novel Hardcover – June 10, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Julia Lambert is a New York art professor spending the summer in Maine with her elderly father, a domineering neurosurgeon, and mother, a gentle soul succumbing to Alzheimer's. Julia's oldest son, Steven, joins the clan as tragic news surfaces: her second son, Jack, is addicted to heroin. Ex-husband Wendell, Julia's distant sister Harriet and Jack himself soon arrive, and intervention is on the agenda. Jack refuses to go quietly, and Robinson, who has worked in multiple genres (including penning a biography of Georgia O'Keeffe), engulfs the clan in a sea of resentment and repressed hostility, spiked with the intermittent need to feel close. Her unrelenting look at the deep physical and mental distress involved in heroin abuse is not for the faint of heart, with key portions of the drama unfolding through descriptions of Jack's perpetually itching skin, twitching muscles, heaving stomach, needle-tracked arms and addled brain. While the omniscient narration sometimes loses focus, Robinson offers adept closeups of family trauma. (June)
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From The New Yorker

Robinson’s fourth novel is an engrossing tale of a patrician family’s unravelling 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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374271879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374271879
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,567,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roxana Robinson is the author of nine books: five novels, three story collections, and the biography of Georgia O'Keeffe. Four of these were New York Times Notable Books.
Robinson was born in Kentucky, but grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She attended Bennington College and graduated from the University of Michigan. She worked in the art world, specializing in the field of American painting, before she began writing full-time. Her most recent novel, Sparta, won the James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction from the USMC Heritage Foundation. Her previous novel, Cost, received the Fiction Award from the Maine Publishers and Writers Association. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's, Tin House, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the NBCC Balakian Award for Criticism and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She teaches at Hunter College, is a former member of the board of PEN, and is currently the President of the Authors Guild.

Customer Reviews

I read this book in six days.
Adam Rust
A dark, disturbing story about a dysfunctional family and how they deal with the nightmare of addiction.
Rabid Reader
The author is a master of character development, in this book and in all her other novels and stories.
BeachReader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Roxanna Robinson - always a brilliant writer - takes the reader through the devastating emotional effect that heroin addiction brings to an entire family, as well as the physical effects it has on the addict. Not one member of 22- year old Jack's immediate family is spared the damage stemming from his drug addiction. Robinson bases most of the story on Jack, his divorced parents Julia and Wendell, and his older brother, Steven. But, she brings in other family members and some others outside the family, who have been pulled into the problems Jack has created by his addiction.

This is the story of a family - three generations - who have long been separated emotionally by misunderstandings. They are brought together in an attempt to deal with Jack's problems and in the process find some emotional healing with each other.

It is a great read. Robinson is unstinting in describing the family's turmoil and the book doesn't end in a wholly happy way, but it ends the way most things like this probably do end in "real life".
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book rises far above the usual tragedy genre; it delves into the true cost of an addiction on parents, sibling, and extended family and it doesn't strike one false note. It's a true page-turner and by the end of the book, you'll feel as if you know each of these characters intimately as if they were flesh-and-blood neighbors. That's rare praise for a work of fiction.

COST presents the point of view of each character individually: Julia, the very human divorced mother, her ex-husband Wendell, her neurosurgeon autocratic father, her memory-challenged mother, her conflicted older son Steven... and Jack, her heroin-addicted younger son who draws the entire clan into a web of fear, recriminations, and struggle for too-late connections.

Roxana Robinson doesn't flinch in describing the cost of addiction, nor does she preach. We, the readers, see the cost from all angles: what it does to the brain (through the eyes of the neurosurgeon grandfather), what it does to the body, and most of all, what it does to the soul. We learn that for most heroin addicts -- the vast majority -- rehab is only an illusion and death is the likely result. And we view how that knowledge affects the day-to-day lives of those most intimately involved.

Some pages are so devastating that they are painful to read; some strike notes of accord as we relate them to our own struggling family relationships and how "something in the blood makes them kin, keeps them apart."

It's a true tour de force presented with passion, compassion, perceptiveness, and an eagle eye for details. This should be required reading for every would-be drug user. And it certainly is recommended reading for each of us who love perfectly-realized characters in situations that are not of their making.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Granfors TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I see that others have used the word "harrowing," which is exactly what I would call "Cost" as well. But reading it, through all the dangers and absolute dissolution that drugs do, can bring the reader enlightenment, grim as it may be.

"Cost" is a harrowing novel to read, not just because the focus is a heroin-addicted son.

Robinson clearly assesses the mindset of the two elderly parents, the two very different daughters, Julia and Harriet, and Julia's sons, Steven and Jack.

This is Jack's story. The picture of a heroin addict is excrutiating, and the family's pain is felt.

Julia's guilt and fear are matched by her egotistical father's awakening to the limitations of his own aging mind and body and his wife's gracious slip into dementia.

This dysfunctional family is probably not so different from that of many families where "father knows best," and no emotion is allowed to be shown or expressed. This is the first time I have read such a thorough and compelling assessment of growing up under those conditions.

An amazing book, but not an easy one to swallow.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Margaret on January 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's early in the year so you never know, but it will be an amazing reading year if this one isn't at or near the top of my best-of-the-year list come December. Incredibly compelling and moving. So many elements so well interwoven: the complex world of parenting, the awkward relationships we have with our siblings,the experience of losing a parent or a spouse to Alzheimers. I don't think I've ever seen the idea of the adult child still needing to be the good child delivered so thoughtfully. I find myself thinking of George Eliot, in the way Robinson delivers such realness in fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rust VINE VOICE on October 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It would have been enough if this was a story about a busy academic with two kids, an ex-husband, and a pair of problematic parents. There is plenty to explore in that set of relationships alone. That is the tightrope that Julia, the heroine of Cost, faces prior to the moment when she realizes that her youngest son is addicted to heroin.

At the beginning of this novel, Julia's parents are visiting her home in Maine. Her mother is slipping in to the throes of dementia. Her father, a retired neurosurgeon, is cruel. His sense of his own professional accomplishment gets in the way of his relationships with his family.

It permeates each character's notion of their own identity. The father's pride seems to spawn hurt in almost every member of the family. The author takes time to let us understand the feelings of each character. I like that about this writer. She is exact.

Sometimes the best way to describe something is through an artifact. One of my favorite passages concerns a set of keys. Julia had given her ex a little bauble for the keychain on a car, but she kept the car after the divorce. When he visits, the keychain rattles against the dash on the ride home, reminding both of the uneasy break in their lives.

The book is largely about the slow fall of Jack, the youngest son, into heroin addiction. Again, the father's knowledge is somewhat of a problem, as he only wants to look at the issue from a clinical perspective. "Exogenous opiates, not good," he says. I learned some things from this author. She has obviously done some research.

The other interesting thing about this book is a subplot that concerns idealistic people working in non-profits. Robinson populates other novels with these types.
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