MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU begins with Josh Goldin, a New York businessman and young father, finding out that his baby son has nearly died and is in the hospital. Dr. Darlene Stokes, who happens to be both female and black, suspects Josh's wife Dori is intentionally injuring the baby to cause drama. Turns out there's a name for this behavior: Munchausen by proxy, but Darlene has never diagnosed it before. Though this syndrome is extremely rare, Darlene, a single mother devoted to her own son, is convinced that the Goldins' baby Zack is a victim of Munchausen by proxy. Her ensuing legal battle with the Goldin family, who are Jewish, is fraught with racial and sexist tensions. As the situation continues to escalate, Josh Goldin begins question his comfortable beliefs about himself and his family life.
This novel is that rare (in my experience so far) type of literary fiction that, although it doesn't use a classically constructed plot, can still keep a reader's attention because it holds momentous central questions over your head for the duration of the novel. You'll spend much of the novel wanting to know whether Dori really did something to the baby, and the rest of it (up to the very last line) wondering which side of the debate Josh will end up on.
I first heard of this book when I read a pair of blog posts by Darin Strauss on the Powell's book blog, about some of the problems in contemporary literary fiction (read it here: part 1, part 2). He said:
It's not a question of a writer's skill; it's a question of intent, of pinched ambition. Too much contemporary fiction seems purposefully to address small things in small ways. And yet why not try for the all-inclusive, the gripping, for the audacious? For the masterly, high-wrought, and the beautiful?
In the article, Strauss is calling on writers of literary fiction to raise their genre out of the "boring" stereotype that it often deserves. Although MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU does slow down at certain points in the narrative, I would say Strauss has largely succeeded in taking his own advice. This novel is ambitious in style and bold in content, and the final pages pack an emotional punch that knocked the wind out of me.