Monday, April 20, 2009


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.


moonrat said...

So I've never read anything by Darin Strauss, but I recently had some professional interaction with him and he was THE NICEST MAN IN THE WORLD. I really liked reading your review because it reminds me that I want to read him, and also makes me happy to know how good he is in other people's untainted opinions, as well.

Jolie said...

He IS the Nicest Man in the World. As a matter of fact, my copy of MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU was sent to me for free by Strauss himself. I blogged about his Powell's post and he followed the backlink, saw that I mentioned wanting to read his latest novel, and asked for my address so he could have it sent to me!

B said...

I really want to read this now. I've added it to my list! Specially now that I know that he's so nice!

Leigh Russell said...

Takes a lot of guts for a writer to be 'audacious'. Publishers tend to go with the tried-and-tested. They don't like sticking their necks out (risking their money) on anything 'different' which can be hard to sell to bookstores. Darin Strauss sounds exceptional. This is a great review and a great recommendation. I've heard of Munchhausen by proxy - it's a very strange and fascinating condition.

Jolie said...

Strauss definitely takes some risks, particularly in his treatment of Darlene. He spends a surprising amount of time on her, so that by the end of the novel you have at least as good an understanding of her as you do of Josh or Dori Goldin.

The result is that there's no clear protagonist or antagonist; all three of these characters get lots of stage time and lots of development. I couldn't help sympathizing with each of them at different points in the story--even the one who's clearly in the wrong.

Leigh Russell said...

I had trouble with the first in my series of crime thrillers. I found the killer so much more interesting to write than the detective. My publisher wanted me to work on the detective. The killer has to be caught in the end (this is fiction) but the detective continues from book to book; the reader has to be interested in the ongoing character. Why are villains so much more fascinating to write? (or does this say something about me....?)

The first book is hitting the shelves in June. You're invited to my Virtual Book Launch - details on my blog if you're interested.

Rebecca :) said...

This book looks FABULOUS. Completely the kind of story I devour. And I am glad Strauss is a great person to know, too. That makes me want to read his work even more. I love knowing whether a writer is nice.

Mary said...

I was net browsing looking for some inspiration to get me offline and into my writing. The article you linked at Powell's was great. I've never heard of Darin but I just ordered this book. I almost left to find it at a bookstore. It's so hard to keep a book a page turner and still get the "big" issues.

Awesome review and great motivation--thanks!