Roxana Robinson | Cost (Picador, 2009)

book_cost.gifJulia’s life was an enviable one——until it wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia’s life was an enviable one—a handsome, successful husband, a lovely house and vacation home in Maine, two smart sons—until it wasn’t. The husband, Wendell, left her and is now remarried; she found herself short of cash and in danger of losing the Maine property; but worst of all, one of her boys has become a heroin addict. To add to her woes, her family of origin is not close. She seldom speaks to her career-driven sister, her mother has developed Alzheimer’s disease, her father is eternally judgmental and her brother is always absent when needed. So, Julia has a family, but in most of the ways that matter, she is alone when we enter her world.

How it all came to this and the consequences of action and inaction is the focus of Robinson’s beautifully written, heartbreaking and yet uplifting novel. For Julia, growing into her fifties has been a time of gradual stripping away of the people she loves in various ways. She has come to rely heavily, perhaps too heavily, on her older son, Steven, the "responsible one," though not in his grandfather’s eyes. Steven left college and spent time protesting deforestation rather than going to graduate school, something his grandfather Edward expects of everyone. He had been a brilliant neurosurgeon himself, and his heart is breaking because his hands are now old and gnarled, and Katherine, his wife, is failing so quickly. He feels helpless, and so does Julia, but the two are not close enough to admit it to each other.

Julia herself has had success as an artist, and both she and Wendell are academics. He is analytical, she is emotional. She is never portrayed as a victim, thankfully, and she is also a partner in the destruction of her marriage. She and Wendell do come back together to try to save their son, and their fear, dread, denial—all the emotions experienced by those who love addicts—are palpable here. The reader feels drawn into their world which, despite pain, does still have moments of beauty and grace. A lot like life.

This is a difficult novel to put down and an impossible one to forget. I hope it will find the readership it deserves. I wasn’t familiar with Robinson before this book, but her previous works are on my reading list now. | Andrea Braun

NOTE: The 2008 hardcover release was named a Best Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune and Library Journal.

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