November 16, 2008

COST by Roxana Robinson

Originally uploaded by soyrosa
I have a confession to make. I read novels. I prefer to find ones that have relevance and redeeming social value, but I've been known to read trashy novels also. I don't read them for educational purposes, or even for self-improvement. I read them because I need to relax my brain. I read them because I can't afford to take a vacation, or even get out of the house, every time I need to. I reads them because I have to, because I get very grumpy if I don't.

Those of you who know me, know that I can be a little compulsive, a bit of a workaholic, and most definitely an extreme multi-tasker. So it is only natural and fitting that I multi-task my novel reading and let you all in on the fun. How about I give a little review of what I'm reading every now and then?

Most recently I read COST, a novel by Roxana Robinson. For me, the best thing about reading a novel is the sense of visiting another place, getting to know about other people's lives. But for the effect to really work, the characters in the novel have to be involved in situations that seem real to me. And it's much easier to become immersed if the concerns that run through their heads mirror the concerns of the people I see around me. In COST, the concerns are sometimes almost too close to home, or rather too close to that existential angst we all face.

We are treated to the perspectives of several family members during a family crisis around drug abuse. This would be a cliched topic except for the clear voice of self questioning that runs through the entire book. Each character metes out their own doses of self justification, come into contact with the reality created by the behavior they've been justifying, and then come to terms with it in various ways with different levels of success, depending upon their age and level of development. Husbands come to see the ways they haven't seen their wives in long years of marriage. Mothers try to untangle the webs of cause and effect between themselves and their children and even with their own parents. Brothers look to each other and come to see the adult that came from the child and in turn step into their own adulthood, or don't and fall into the abyss of drug addiction and personality loss.

Each character is believable. They share with us their interior stories about mistakes, about willful bad behavior and attempts and failures and good intentions, They share them in the sense that the author makes us privy to them, and in the sense that we know these stories and justifications from within ourselves. Seeing all these characters, all beside one another trying out their differing points of view of this same situation, brought the fact of my point of view into more clear focus. When immersing myself, serially, in the flow of these different perspectives I couldn't help but view my own perspective as just that, another perspective. Central to me, yes, just as the characters in this novel quite obviously experience their perspectives as central, but also existing beside the perspectives of the others in my life. Some novels buoy you up. This one puts you right down in the crowd, one of many and that's ok.

And, on a more somber note, each character quietly and with varying degrees of regret, come to realize the cost they paid in their lives for their personalities, for being committed to who they were. Ms. Robinson occupies the self of each character with such understanding that each cost seems to exist in a different dimension, in a completely different personal landscape with a different personal language. At the same time, it's the intersection of these personal dimensions in the real intimacy of their lives that creates all the action and interplay of the novel. This interplay and reckoning and regret is written in a sympathetic and loving manner. These characters do not come to hate themselves, but struggle to accept what they have, as we all do to some degree or another. In that regard, the novel is rewarding because it reinforces the value of our everyday emotional struggle to live in intimacy with those we love. And what is more valorous and worthwhile than that?

While I became attached to the people who lived in this world and understood their difficulties, it was not my world. The protagonist is a college professor struggling for tenure. The setting is a summer house, albeit a run-down summer house, but a summer house nonetheless. Her divorced husband lives in New York. They both struggle to pay thousands a month to send a son to a good rehab for an indeterminate stay. Their difficulties are not weighed upon by immediate abrupt financial hardship, as mine would be in the same situation. I'm used to that in novels. I look for my own working class background to be reflected but don't often find it. It gets a bit tiresome but I put up with it, even cheerfully, if the characters are as well written as these.

Alright, the book's tone is a bit glib. It move quickly. The sentences are not complex. But still, I can't remember reading such a good assessment of what it's like to try to be a daughter, a husband, a mother. Sons try to find their place. Brothers look at each other as brothers do and we get to see that. These people try to figure out what I've been trying to figure out, how do I be myself and still be these other roles, still have all this meaning for the loved ones in my life? It helps to see what they think as they go along, and it was enjoyable. And the little smattering of progressive politics doesn't hurt either.

Thumbs up for this book.

COSTS by Roxana Robinson is available at the Beaver Library (as soon as I return it).


Carl Davidson said...

Good review, Tina.

Now look up the book on, go down to where 'Reader's Reviews' are, and post it there, but with your link.

If it won't accept your link, put in deckhandsdaughter (dot) blogspot (dot) com , just like that. It will get you past the anti-link filter, if there is one.

Then see if the author or publisher has a blog for the book. If so, post there, and link back to you again.

It's an acceptable way of boosting your reach.

Leah said...

"I have a confession to make. I read novels." Since when did reading novels become so pejorative that you have to preface it as a confession when you talk about it?

That said, your review makes me want to read it. Ahh, one more book in my list of "to reads."

Which makes me think. I have a confession to make. I'm a list maker.

Peter Deutsch said...

The writing flows nicely, as a natural even effortless result of mature experience. It is intriguingly introspective. It shows you as having thought a lot about why and how you read.

Since you describe what reading a novel 'is for' it gives me a non reader of novels an idea or window into why people read them in the first place.
You should circulate the review. Roxana Robinson does have a list of blogs and links although perhaps not precisely in the form Carl describes. Perhaps there are some opportunities for exposure there.

Peter Deutsch

Anonymous said...

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