three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-More Than It Hurts YouNYU creative writing professor and historical novelist Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng and The Real McCoy 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002) tries his hand at contemporary fiction.

The Story: Handsome, successful Long Island advertising executive Josh Goldin gets a shocking message at work: his wife, Dori, has rushed their infant son Zack to the hospital with a mysterious, life-threatening illness. When Dr. Darlene Stokes, an African American pediatrician, suspects Dori of child abuse—specifically, a mental disorder called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which drives parents to intentionally harm their children for attention to themselves—she reports her concerns to the authorities. A custody battle erupts, and the ensuing media blitz portrays Dr. Stokes as a bitter, envious black woman maliciously targeting a nice, white Jewish family. The conflict sets both sides on a collision course from which no one will emerge unscathed.
Dutton. 401 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0525950702

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"He certainly tells an exciting, cunningly plotted story, but his most telling ‘special effect’ is an unerring intelligence about family, race and suburbia. … Strauss is a seamless weaver of telling observation and fast-moving plot." Dan Cryer

Portland Mercury 4 of 5 Stars
"Strauss … knows how to get under your skin—cleverly constructing a story that burns and festers, leaving you slightly traumatized and utterly invested in the moment. … As Josh, Dori, and Dr. Stokes’ lives get further entangled in the media blitz of a black doctor trying to take away a white couple’s baby, it becomes evident that Strauss has written a satire filled with repugnant yet utterly sympathetic characters." Courtney Ferguson

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"There isn’t a false note here: no sentimentality, no easy plot turns. In addition to the compelling movement of the plot, this novel subtly examines the ways in which biases (racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia) color the judgments that even sophisticated and liberal people make about one another." Mary J. Elkins

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"With More Than It Hurts You, author Darin Strauss has concocted the perfect summer book: a big, meaty page-turner flavored with insight, humor and a large helping of human drama. … Strauss pulls off the rare feat of combining characters who quiver with life with enough suspense to keep you panting for the end." Amy Woods Butler

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Working in a territory midway between the ones staked out by Tom Wolfe and Tom Perrotta, Strauss attempts to construct a sprawling social satire, encompassing everything from disingenuous office culture, to male-bonding rituals, to the corrupt medical and legal Establishments, to the seemingly ever-present mutual distrust between blacks and Jews, to the shallow and rapacious media, to vapid American culture as a whole." Adam Langer

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Moving between characters, Strauss veers from heavy satire to social commentary to earnest realism, following plot lines that sometimes splinter into dead ends. … And while the narrative still manages to be engaging, Strauss’s habit of swinging from theme to theme—prejudice, marital dynamics, the willful naïveté of entitled suburbanites, the nature of parenthood, the limits of American meritocracy—can produce a dizzying effect, adding too many complications to an already complicated plot." Louisa Thomas

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"While this is a smart, witty novel, it’s also an exceptionally cynical one, in which all the characters’ thoughts and actions are overdetermined by their racial, sexual and class identities. … As a Jew, Strauss can defend himself à la Philip Roth from the novel’s juggling of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and for all his exploration of African American pathologies, he’s careful to make the most successful and reformed characters black, but how will women respond to his aggressively negative and dated portrayal of motherhood?" Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Darin Strauss’s compelling new novel touches on many themes—too many for some critics. It contemplates the nature of marriage and familial relationships, mental illness, privilege, class, and bigotry, while indicting American culture as a whole. Strauss dispatches his insights and evokes his characters with verve and skill—critics frequently compared Josh to Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom—but the Washington Post detected a vein of chauvinism through Strauss’s female characters, particularly Dori, whose motives are never fully explored and whose actions remain inscrutable. Nevertheless, Strauss’s sensitive treatment of racism and anti-Semitism and his keenly discerning eye for the banalities of pop culture result in a suspenseful and moving novel that cleverly adds up to more than the sum of its many parts.

Also By the Author

A-Chang and EngChang and Eng (2000): Strauss humanizes the life of Eng, one of a pair of conjoined (Siamese) twins born in the Kingdom of Siam in 1881, as he takes readers from their childhood through their circus career and married lives.