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Mount Desert Islander – ‘Cost’ top pick in Maine

Mount Desert Islander – ‘Cost’ top pick in Maine.

“Cost,” a novel by Mount Desert Island summer resident Roxana Robinson, has been named the top novel of the year by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The 2009 Maine literary awards were announced last week and will be presented to winners on Wednesday, April 22.

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Most categories had honorable mentions as well as a winner, but “Cost” was the only work listed in the fiction category.

In January, “Cost” was named one of the Washington Post’s top five fiction books. The Seattle Times, Library Journal, Wall St. Journal, Chicago Tribune, Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon all selected “Cost” as one of their top books of the year, while the New York Times listed it as an editor’s choice. In the spring of 2008, the National Book Critics Circle chose it as a “recommended read.”

In interviews with the Islander last July and Library Journal in December, and in meetings with some College of the Atlantic students in February, Ms. Robinson explained that four years ago she began writing an intergenerational novel – a quiet, meditative, introspective domestic book about being an adult child of aging parents, a child who wants to be friends and on an equal footing with her parents. “But the ghost of that earlier self interferes with the intention of being friends and an equal,” said Ms. Robinson.

The first two chapters introduce readers to Julia, a painter, untenured professor and divorced mother of two adult sons – Steven and Jack; to Katharine, Julia’s 86-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s, and to Edward, her 88-year-old father who had been a brilliant neurosurgeon but is retired and struggling with the changes aging imposes.

“Heroin emerged as a presence for the author at exactly the same time it emerges for the reader – in an early chapter, when we’re inside Steven’s mind, and he’s remembering his visit to his brother,” said Ms. Robinson. “As he remembered that visit it became horrifyingly apparent to me, the author, that Jack was a heroin addict.”

In interviews, readings and meetings with students, Ms. Robinson reiterates time and again that she lives within the minds of her characters. She does not have a preconceived plot, but rather lets a story develop and unfold through the characters.

She did this so successfully, said COA’s academic dean Ken Hill, that he assigned “Cost” as required reading in the Introduction to Counseling course he taught this winter. “The rich nature of the characters – particularly their intrapsychic nature – the heroin addiction and the intervention session she describes made “Cost” an ideal book for this class. We used the characters in our mock therapy sessions because “Cost” is grounded in a family system in transition.”

Ms. Robinson’s understanding of family dynamics and her ability to depict them was a factor in the Washington Post naming “Cost” one of the five best novels of the year. “‘Cost’ will get tagged immediately as that story about heroin addiction, but what’s best about Roxana Robinson’s scarily good novel has nothing to do with opiates,” wrote Ron Charles in the Post review. “Oh, she’s done her homework well, and she writes about every aspect of the drug – its use, its effects and especially its personal, financial and spiritual costs – with flesh-itching precision. But if heroin is what gives this novel its rush, Robinson’s sensitivity to family relations is what makes it so compelling.”

Throughout the four years of writing the novel, she constantly researched Alzheimer’s, neurosurgery and heroin addiction to help give the novel credibility as she intuits the feelings of Katharine as she realizes she is slowly losing her mind or describes Jack scratching his neck feverishly when in need of a fix.

“How to get into Jack’s mind required lots of research on heroin addiction. I read a lot, talked a lot. Once you live inside someone else’s head, you feel very closely connected to them. As a novelist, your task is to become the person you’re writing about, to learn who that person is,” Ms. Robinson told the students and those attending her readings.

Ms. Robinson believes that “a novelist’s task is to bear witness to the life we see around us.”

Members of the public are invited to attend the awards presentation at the Glickman Family Library on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine on Wednesday, April 22, beginning at 7 p.m.

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  1. March 17, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I know-I am psyched!

  2. Lou
    March 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I can’t wait to read it!

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