Heroically flawed parents populate the literary world. They seek revenge (Mystic River), they tell lies (The Secret Life of Bees), they commit murder (Gods in Alabama) — all acts born from love for their children. Or, in an absurd twist, they're accused of deliberately injuring their child, as in More Than It Hurts You, the new novel by critically acclaimed author Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng).
This accusation of Munchausen syndrome proves to be a major flaw in the otherwise charmed lives of Dori and Josh Goldin. He has "the touch," luring advertisers like bees to honey at a second-rate cable station. Meanwhile, Dori appeals to her husband's masculinity, always addressing him as Mr. Goldin — a modern-day blond Betty archetype from television writer Matthew Weiner's Mad Men world.
Darlene Stokes, chief of pediatrics, stands as their accuser. Her hospital had no diagnosis after admitting their seriously ill baby twice. But Darlene's canny mind picked up clues: The mother used to be a phlebotomist, and the baby had a funny red mark on his arm.
As Strauss delves deeper into the lives of his characters, readers discover the sources of Darlene's shame, Josh's blase attitude toward his family and Dori's listless path as a homemaker.
More Than It Hurts You could have stood on its own as a troubling look at a mental illness that hasn't received much play in the media spotlight. But Strauss delves deeper into America's psyche, allowing the novel's true tension to come from traditional gender and racial biases.
Darlene, a symbol of black female empowerment, is an emotional scapegoat for the white Goldins and acts as a foil to Dori's life path. More Than It Hurts You's stereotyping doesn't end with race. Strauss allows his characters to question biases against Jews, homosexuals and convicts, which often leave the wronged individual burdened by half-truths and lies.
Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at (727) 893-8881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.