19 June 2008

More Than it Hurts You

Words, Darlene thought, are amazing little implements. Because of words something can be awful and untrue, while still being factual.

Darin Strauss's new book "More Than It Hurts You" is a fascinating construction - it pits family against bureaucracy, white against black, news media against ordinary people, rich against poor. Set in a semi-fictional Long Island, the novel centers around an "alleged" case of Munchausen by proxy. A black female doctor suspects a white stay-at-home mother of harming her child, though how and to what end is in question.

We, the omniscient reader, know the "cold, iron-gray secret" - but the doctor doesn't, the lawyers and child protective services people don't, the husband/father doesn't, the press doesn't.

The book moves inexorably from the ominous opening line "Fifteen minutes before happiness left him" which introduces Josh - the husband/father and a successful attractive frat boy salesman. Josh's wife Dori has rushed their 8 month old son to the emergency room, where he's admitted to the pediatric ICU by Dr. Darlene Stokes. In short order, we meet Dr. Stokes, and learn her complicated backstory (brought up by a single mother, now a single mother herself), meet the father she never knew (who's just been released from jail), and continue down the carefully plotted path of denouement.

Leo...would commute...until the morning he died.
This changed Dr. Stokes's life forever.
Josh considered May 27th the most truly horrific day he'd known.

CPS takes the child, the press gets involved, accusations of reverse racism are leveled at the black doctor trying to break up a white family. And finally, you're left to ponder what's going to happen next? Not left hanging, ready for a sequel, but wondering what will happen to Josh, to Dori, to baby Zach? What will happen to Darlene? Will any of them find peace within? It's a compelling and provocative read.

I did find some sloppy edits (something happened on the 3rd visit, the 4th visit, the 3rd visit; and Darlene's mother had sex once in 1966 but Darlene was born in 1968) and I found the Long Island setting disconcerting. Not because it didn't seem like Long Island, but because there was a curious mix of real places (Glenwood Landing, Searingtown Road, Roslyn, Old Country Road) and fictitious ones ("Washington Harbor" for Port Washington?, "Sand's End" for Sands Point?). And, at one point, Darlene takes the train to go on a date in another Long Island town. That would simply never happen - the LIRR doesn't work that way, and anyone with a car would drive. But those quibbles about LI are idiosyncratic - I grew up there. Most readers wouldn't notice the little discrepancies.

Five stars. Well-written, irresistible and so stimulating that I'm going to keep the review copy that I got from Mother Talk because I think it might be a good book club read.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Strauss is about to kick off a book tour, and will be blogging about it for Newsweek.

10 comments:

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You've convinced me to give it a try--it sounds great.

Janet said...

Sounds like a great read; adding it to The List.

flutter said...

The human mind fascinates the hell out of me

womaninawindow said...

I like it when books are set in a "realish" sort of place. Sounds like it might be interesting. Too bad I never know where I'm going with my reads.

Mental P Mama said...

That condition has always fascinated me. We had one here in CT not too long ago...think about the ones who go undetected...

Julie Pippert said...

Oooh good review. Adding it to my list. I'll read it when I finish my to-review books LOL.

Pinky said...

I'll borrow your copy, please. (If I can ever fight my way to the end of Anna Karenina...)

slouching mom said...

ooh. to amazon i go...

DarinStrauss said...

Hey
This is the author of "More Than it Hurts you." I really appreciate the support! A very humbling review to come across. Thanks so much -- for reading, and for the support. I'm really glad you liked it.
-ds

MadMad said...

Sounds pretty fascinating (other than that real stuff that isn't - that always drives me nuts, picking apart the "realities" that don't work, streets that go opposite ways, etc., etc.), and I'll give it a try! (I like that he came by and commented, too!)