More Than It Hurts You, Darin Strauss' third novel (after Chang and Eng and The Real McCoy), covers a wide range of timely issues, from child abuse and the foster care system to racism and the rabid nature of the American press. With a voice that is both sympathetic and satirical, Strauss begins his tale on a day that turns from normal to nightmarish - and has life-shattering consequences for its characters.

Josh Goldin (the name is a clever play on words, for Josh is a golden boy if there ever was one) is a successful salesman living a comfortable life in Long Island with his beautiful wife, Dori, and eight-month-old son, Zack. But the perfect bubble of his existence is popped one Friday afternoon at work, when his secretary interrupts his break room banter to give him the news that Zack is in the hospital.

After rushing to the emergency room, Josh learns that Zack has gone from having blood in his vomit (the reason Dori says she took him to the emergency room) to suffering cardiac arrest and being put in intensive care. After several harrowing hours, Zack appears to come through it all just fine - but the ordeal is just beginning. As Dori, who worked as a phlebotomist before becoming a full-time mom, accuses the doctors of mishandling her son's case, Dr. Darlene Stokes, the head of pediatrics, begins to look on her with serious suspicion. Could Dori have intentionally hurt her own son? As the case against Dori builds, the Goldins and Dr. Stokes find themselves in a tempest complete with lawyers, social workers and a hungry media that latches on to their tale with glee (the fact that Dr. Stokes is black and the Goldins white further complicates the conflict). A side plot involving Dr. Stokes' ex-con father seems superfluous, and the characters sometimes come off as stereotypical, but the novel's entertainment value overshadows its shortcomings. Strauss delves inside the minds of all three players as the story unfolds in a kind of Lifetime-movie-meets-"Law & Order" fashion. Peppered with cynical humor, astute observations and some genuinely shocking scenes, Strauss' compelling family drama is a true page-turner.

Rebecca Stropoli writes from Brooklyn, New York.

 

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