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"Cost" by Roxana Robinson

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Early in Roxana Robinson’s “Cost” we learn of Edward Lambert that he enjoyed finding fault, it made him feel competent and sure of himself, useful. Finding what was wrong with a certain situation, person, or idea put him in control, and made him superior. We feel for his grown daughter, Julia, a New York artist and college professor, and understand why his presence at her Maine summer home puts her on edge, and makes her resent him.

In this realistic, perfectly-paced novel, Ms. Robinson presents the tragic story of loss accompanying the deadly heroin habit of Julia’s son Jack, which wraps the family up in his inexorable downward spiral. It starts with Edward. He has sailed through his life as a distinguished brain surgeon; he loves the prestige and the notoriety, and the power this gives him; he has developed a powerful ego. He sees himself as a virtuous standard, a member of an extremely exclusive society, but very late in life his wife’s fading faculties trigger worry and memories that begin to tell him and us a different tale. The leucotomies, the enforced surgeries on mental patients, the use of humans as little more than experimental subjects, these all come back to him, and as the trying events of his grandson’s drug habit proceed beyond his control, he begins to understand his own failing facilities, and wonders if he really was as fine an individual as he liked to believe.

This story recounts the unbearable cost of the young man’s heroin addiction, in terms of heartbreak and financial capital, and it may cost him his life if he can’t kick it. However, there’s another cost running through this plainly- and effectively-told tale. The toxicity flowing from Edward, the embittered and estranged patriarch, generates coldness and distance in his offspring. His two daughters, Julia and Harriet, barely speak, and their brother in nowhere to be found at this time of family crisis (he lives on the opposite coast). This negativity and mistrust lead directly to Jack’s addiction. His suffering is the cost of the way this family behaves; he needs to be emotionally elsewhere, not part of this family.

“Cost” thus holds up the unfeeling Lambert family for our review, at odds, unloving, ultimately ineffective in dealing with its youngest member’s crisis. The author seamlessly shifts points of view, so that we get internal dialogs from all major characters. These are perfect. They guide us through the treacherous waters of this family strife, and we end understanding all. Ms. Robinson’s powerful novel exposes this fractured family at its worst time; it is artfully, thoroughly done, and so harrowingly real. A serious, excellent, and thought-provoking piece.

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