Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Review: "The Cost of Living" by Rob Roberge

"The dumbest junkie I've ever met could do the quickest math imaginable about how much they had left and how long it could and would last. We can shift metric to standard in our heads and we can tally up the numbers of pills in our pockets faster than a room full of MIT grads with calculators."

Bud Barrett should know better than anyone what it's like to be a junkie. He's spent a good part of his adult life completely high, thinking about getting high, figuring out how long his high is going to last and how to maintain it, and recovering from being high. Amazingly, during a good amount of this time, Bud has been a well-known indie guitarist and singer, part of a band that achieved some renown (and even more after he left). But the siren call of drugs has led him down an increasingly self-destructive path, causing him to do things he never thought he'd do, and hurt himself in ways non-addicts couldn't even imagine.

"I'd crossed so many ethical lines I said I would never cross in my life. I'd become a man I couldn't recognize more times than I could ever count."

Bud's mother committed suicide when he was young, and his relationship with his father has been strained since he witnessed a shocking crime he never quite understood. And those two relationships have haunted him, driven him toward drugs and thoughts of suicide, and given him some thought of redemption at times as well. When Bud meets smart, sassy, responsible Olivia, for the first time in his life he wants to be sober, wants to savor the moment instead of drowning in it drugs. But will the pull of his addiction be stronger than true love?

Rob Roberge's The Cost of Living is a beautiful, almost poetic book which is brutally frank in its depiction of the daily struggles of a drug addict. Bud is a man with everything—talent, brains, drive, love—but he can't keep from putting himself in harm's way, literally putting his life at risk hour after hour, day after day. The book shifts back and forth through different times in Bud's life—sometimes he's deep in the throes of addiction, sometimes he's clean, sometimes he's somewhere in between—and it follows him as he deals with problems both ordinary and bizarre. He finds and loses love because of his addiction, he's financially secure and penniless, he's with old friends and drug friends he barely knows.

At its heart, this is a book about relationships. All the paths in Bud's life lead him back to his estranged father, a man whose love Bud craved yet a man he also wanted to destroy at times. Yet the answers he seeks from his father could either set him free or set him back on a path of self-destruction, and he's not certain which he'd rather it be.

"My next overdose could be my last, and I wasn't sure I was too scared by that anymore."

I was absolutely captivated by Roberge's storytelling. Although the shifts in time took a little orienting, Bud is such a vivid character and his persona, both high and sober, is so well-drawn, that even as you're disgusted by him and pity him and think he might be better off dead, you can't help reading about him. The Cost of Living is tremendously well-written and utterly compelling. One hell of a read.

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