Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon August 1, 2013 - 5:14pm

'The Cost of Living' by Rob Roberge

Discussion has officially started!

Synopsis: To the shock of lovers and rivals, indie guitarist Bud Barrett is finally—if tenuously—married, clean, and sober. Now he faces the challenge of staying that way. To avoid repeating the past, Bud needs to confront the ghosts that dwell there. After decades of seeking redemption in the arms of “pervy Florence Nightingales,” Bud finds himself still haunted by his mother’s abandonment, his own array of crimes, and a murder he witnessed as a child. As he revisits his life of grief and reckless excess, all paths lead to his long estranged father, a man with his own turbulent history and the only one who can connect Bud’s fragments, unlocking the answers that just might save him.

Author: Rob Roberge is the author of the novels Drive and More Than They Could Chew and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life. He's the guitarist for the seminal punk band The Urinals.

Discussion has officially started!

I feel like we're late getting to this one. But I had a schedule mostly planned before everybody started raving about this. It's cool though, we'll give it a second wind. And judging by all the praise people are giving it, I can't wait to get started on this one. I can't wait to see what everybody has to say.

Order 'The Cost Of Living' Here!

Get to reading!

GP's picture
GP from the Midwest is reading Untouchable by Scott O'Connor August 2, 2013 - 9:50am

I'm in, yo!  Just finished More Than They Could Chew and, wow..Nicely done, Rob.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 2, 2013 - 11:14am

wild book. i'll definitely try to stop by and chat about it.

NikKorpon's picture
NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and August 3, 2013 - 6:44pm

Been meaning to get into this for months. Maybe this will give me the push.

Gustavo Lucciola's picture
Gustavo Lucciola from Sao Paulo, Brazil is reading House Of Leaves and Burnt Tongues August 23, 2013 - 11:23am

I'm brazilian and Bookdepository took a while to send it.
When it comes, I'll have to read pretty fast to participate here.

First book here, gotta do it right

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 23, 2013 - 1:00pm

it's a wild ride. 

Mokoshne's picture
Mokoshne August 25, 2013 - 7:17am

it sounds great!

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon August 26, 2013 - 2:54pm

Gustavo - no matter when you finish, you can always add your thoughts. :)

LizardKing's picture
LizardKing August 31, 2013 - 9:40pm

I'm about half way through. There needs to be more books like this.

kater's picture
kater September 2, 2013 - 8:00am

Hey, Rob,

Before I even noticed that you had a real sound track to this book-

-there seemed to be an obvious soundtrack thrumming beneath the prose as I read. Did you listen to specific music throughout the writing of this book or did you mix it up according to which section you were working on? Does the music you listen to add an energy or rhythm to the writing you're doing?

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself September 2, 2013 - 8:18am

One of the very best books I've read lately. I've been fan since More than They Could Chew (end hipster cred). More than They Could Chew definitely reflects a, maturing isn't the right word, but an evolving storyteller, one that was plenty evolved even with Drive and More than They Could Chew.

And now for the sexiest The Cost of Living video you'll see today:

rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 2, 2013 - 8:32am

Hi kater-
I get pretty obsessive about the music. I'm not as locked into it as my friend Stephen G. Jones, who makes himself a playlist for each book and won't change it at ALL until the book's done (come to think of it, that may be why he has greater than double the number of books I might get sick of one playlist and write FAST). That said, I get VERY obsessed...I went through an intense Ike Reilly (who's AMAZING...more people should know his stuff) period on seemingly endless repeat when writing this. I don't remember every artist I was listening to...but a lot of them get mentioned in the book just because they may have been playing that day.
For the new memoir I'm finishing up, I seem to be listening to nothing but the Brian Jonestown Massacre. It's working...why mess with it? Ha! Thank for the Q. Sorry I don't have a better answer. I know there was a lot of  Ike Reilly. Jay Bennett's THE MAGNIFICENT DEFEAT. There was some 13th Floor Elevators/Roky Erickson boxed set. A few more. But I get pretty locked in to a few artists and let them sort of be the soundtrack. Steve Wynn/the Dream Syndicate often figure(s) in somewere.
I always write with music on. It bothers me if i don't...the quiet...or rather the noise in my head.Though it bothers my wife for me to play the Brian Jonestown Massacre on repeat for 10 hours, so good headphones are a must. Thanks! And thanks all for reading/particpating.


rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 2, 2013 - 8:38am

Oh...and if anyone has a questions, I'll be checking in from time to time and try to answer to the best of my abilities, but please don't let it (me being here every once in a while) dictate the flow of the conversation.
And/but, i'd be happy to answer any Q's about TCOL, or any other writing stuff. Or, hell...non-writing questions...about the chicken carcass guns they shoot into jet engines to make sure they're safe. Stuff like that. So...yeah...any Q, really. 

dsherlock's picture
dsherlock September 2, 2013 - 12:15pm

I'm in! Great book and yeah, wild ride. 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 3, 2013 - 6:07am

After picking this up at AWP (being a fan both of Chew and Working Backwards), I read it in the spring in a single day—one itchy, bloodshot, selfish, nostalgic, regretful, guilty, euphoric, and glorious day. Obviously a page-turner. Lemme think back …

I remember the dad stuff being devastating, that familial fatalistic element looming over the proceedings, never letting us get comfortable for too long of a stretch. I've heard about some autobiographical elements to the book, and I'm wondering if you maybe do what I sometimes do, which is to rely on actual experiences to get to the core of writing emotional truths, but apply them to different circumstances to suit plot. Sorta like an actor's sense-memory.

The band dynamics and circustances felt very real and believable to me, too, without sensationalizing it too much. I liked how it didn't start off with him living those glory years at the beginning with a predictable linear downfall. You dropped us in medias res with his struggles right away.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies September 2, 2013 - 9:40pm

i did a review of this at TRIQUARTERLY, if anybody cares to peruse it

i think this is a great book on addiction and the cycling, the up and downs. and it also speaks a lot to family and how sometimes we put up with it no matter what, and sometimes we walk away with a hole inside unable to deal with, or forgive, or reconcile the absence. i'd love to hear you talk about either of those subjects, rob.

second question, how important was it to you to inject humor into this novel? i found it a nice breath of fresh air, and i could relax for a moment, plus what's that saying? tragedy + time = comedy?

great book, rob. and a please hanging out with you here in chicago.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon September 4, 2013 - 9:28am

I've been meaning to jump in here with a few of my thoughts.

I was going to ask about the soundtrack and now I see that that's been addressed. Very cool!

So here are a few thoughts that I marked while reading. SPOILER CITY BELOW.

One of my favorite passages from the book was the part where he has Simone break his hand. He had falls in love with his dream girl and manages to ruin it in such a short time.

Simone looked at me, then back to the road. "You really don't see the problem?"
"No," I said quietly.
"What what you made me do?"
"I didn't make you do anything."
"You begged me," she said, "And I fucking cared about you, so yes you fucking did make me do it."
I took some more breaths and it seemed like I might not throw up. I looked down at my splinted finger, wet with bloodied gauze. I held it up. "I'm the one who got hurt here."
"No," she said. "You're the one with the broken finger." She tossed her cigarette out the window. "You're not the one who got hurt."

And really, it's like every time he's working on a huge up swing, when his shit is together, he just does the stupidest thing. When he was clean for 5 years and starts touring with the band again and his hand starts hurting. When he goes to the hospital I was screaming - don't fucking do it!

There was no way I'd take ten a day. I'd just try a couple like a responsible person. I'd been clean five years. Maybe I could be normal, take the stuff as it was directed. And it wasn't like I went out trying to score drugs. I was in serious pain, and I needed to be better by the next night.

One of my favorite chapters in the book was THE FOUR QUEENS (Spring 2010). As I read that one, I kept thinking that it reminded me of something that might have been in Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. I can see that one being published as a short somewhere. It was pretty much a complete story.

And then there is the moment when he has to make the decision to kill his dad. His whole life he wants his dad to die. He's made remarks like he would kill him. And when finally given the opportunity, it's after realizing that it's the last thing he wants. And he has to kill him anyway because of the situation.

After that, leaving the hospital - he still has some of the vials. At that point in the book, I think that he could have made either decision and it would have been believable. But he dumped them, thus showing that he had finally changed - for good, hopefully.

rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 5, 2013 - 1:58am

First of all, thanks to everyone who's commented...I'm going to try to answer the Q's (Gordon and Richard's in order)

Gordon: I think (I could be misreading it...and I'm sorry, if so) you're asking if I'll change events to service the plot, but keep the emotional autobiographic elements? Sometimes yes, sometimes no...Some things fall pretty much as they happened. But even THOSE end up getting embellished...I'm working on a memoir now and event when telling a "factual" event, giving it narrative shape changes it. Memory is already a revision.

But...on a literal level: my mother didn't commit suicide, but family members and friends have. It worked better for the plot that it was the mother. My father, as far as I know, hasn't killed anyone. But he scared the living shit out of me most of my life.

For me, it it's a book about family, about fathers and sons, at least as much as it's about addiction...the drugs/drinking were a symptom...a way to deal with the real problems. That doesn't mean I was successful, or that mine is the only reading of the text...another reader could make a perfectly valid case that it's a book centered on's not like there is a shortage of drinking and drug use in the book...

But I view it through the lens of of the narrative obsessions is paternal dysfunction...with Bud, obviously, Johnny Mo's dad, the father of the cheerleader, Olivia's father. A lot of people have dad issues in the book-ha!

As far as autobiography...The addiction stuff and the mental health issues are, at times, the way things fell. At times, emotionally true, but factually imagined/invented. I hope that's some kind of answer...Is that what you do in your writing (and what you were talking about), or is it a different process, Gordon?

Richard...the addiction was a tricky thing to write about, because it's a pretty tired subject and can fall into cliche pretty easily. But, I had a lot of lost years to addiction...I wouldn't be who I am without all that having happened...wouldn't see the world the same way, and so on. And I wanted to deal with it honestly in a book.

One thing I do find interesting is that the addiction and the mental health issues are the two most autobiographical things (I've been in touring bands, but not one as big as in the book, and so on)...and no one ever mentions (and I'm not talking about your comment, Richard...just thinking out loud about what's been said/written/interview Q's about the book) the rather severe mental health issues the protagonist has. I wonder why that is. Rapid cycling bipolar is very rarely written about. Much less is known about it even than than general bipolar. And it's not a common character issue,,,,Drugs/addicts frequently are written about. Maybe it's just that people are more familiar with addiction. Because, in life, I took one (drugs) to deal with the other (issues of mental health...which I'm being more open about since they're the memoir i'm, whoever cares will know my craziness then, so why not now?), more or less.

But, about the drugs: I didn't want to glamorize them or demonize them. Most drug narratives I've ever read either made drugs hip and cool....OR they were morality plays that said "don't do this." I just wanted it to be part of the character's life without editorializing, if that makes sense?

What was the other Q? Let me scroll up. Oh, the comedy. Well, I don't think you can really have shadow without light. Being totally dark is as limited a view in its own way as a hallmark card. Plus...I like comedy. I don't think enough books are funny. And comedy, I think, doesn't get enough respect in the literary fiction community.

But dark humor tends to show up in all my novels (some stories don't have it). I'm not sure I'd ever want to write a book length manuscript without humor in it. This is a bonecrushingly bleak world a lot of the time. A major asskick. And. thankfully, it's pretty funny some of the time too.

Thanks for reading/taking the time to comment/question, all.

And, yes...a pleasure meeting/getting to hang out in Chicago, Richard.

rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 4, 2013 - 7:56pm

Oh, Pete. "The Four Queens" (in a somewhat different form) WAS edited and published as a short story in an issue of Black Clock. So, good eye-ha!

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 7, 2013 - 12:14pm

Thanks, Rob. Yeah, that answered it. "Memory is already a revision," indeed. Like playing a solo game of Telephone, embellished a little with each recollection until that 12-pound striped bass on your hook becomes a blue marlin.

rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 7, 2013 - 1:37pm

A solo game of that Gordon. Thanks!

rob roberge's picture
rob roberge from Southern CA is reading Doctorow's THE BOOK OF DANIEL and Tom Hansen's THIS IS WHAT WE DO September 11, 2013 - 5:41pm

Errr...telephone that it. Duh. Sorry!