“I’d turned forty-four. Since I was eighteen, I’d spent most of that time fucked up.” So sums up the life of Bud Barrett, the narrator and anti-hero of Rob Roberge’s fourth novel, “The Cost of Living.” Bud is a drug-addicted and semi-famous guitarist in a cowpunk band with a past tainted by the suicide of his mother and a murder he witnessed as a child. These events trail him like a ghost, and he is pushed into a life-long search for answers, and the numbing beauty of a high. The answers he desires might not even exist, and he doesn’t know where to start, but this makes room for a lot of gruesome detours.
Reading “The Cost of Living” is as close to crawling through a weeklong drug binge as you can get without actually doing any drugs. Bud spares no detail, no matter how gritty or vulgar they may be. Roberge writes scenes packed with details that pull us into sweating out Bud’s dope-sickness with him, and feeling the heart-racing anxiety of not knowing where his next fix is going to come from. These details are made resonant with unique—yet sometimes repetitive—similes, that make each action more well-rounded. Roberge creates a three-dimensional character in Bud: a man with whom we can empathize.
Mirroring the behavior of a junkie, the time jumps in this novel are erratic, but serve a narrative purpose. Bud’s life is made up of intense moments, each one stemming from the one before it, and the novel’s focus is his attempt at piecing them all together, to find meaning in his adult life. This erratic narrative style means some information is repeated multiple times—a missed attempt at bringing desperation to a higher level that only results in redundancy.
Overall, “The Cost of Living” is a high-intensity, gut-wrenching read. Bonus points to Roberge for bringing Popular Mechanics (Bud’s band) to life on his website. (Courtney Kazmierczak)
“The Cost of Living”
By Rob Roberge
OV Books, 285 pages, $16