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More Than it Hurts You - Darin Strauss

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Darin Strauss / Paperback / 416 Pages / Book is published 2010-02-01 by Atlantic Books

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      16.03.2012 16:00
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      I'm glad I carried on reading this book, but not sure if I actually enjoyed it or not.

      Josh and Dori Goldin are one of those seemingly perfect couples. They also have a perfect eight month old baby boy, Zach.
      Zach is a lovely baby, but suddenly one day he loses consciousness and coughs up blood...and then his heart stopped. All for no apparent reason.

      Josh Goldin rushes to the hospital after the phone call from his wife, Dori, only to find when he arrives that Zack is completely recovered, but Dori is furious stating that the hospital ignored her early claims that there was blood in Zach's vomit and sent her away, only for the baby to lose consciousness in the car park, which resulted in his heart stopping and him being rushed back into the hospital. The hospital swear however, that Dori never told them that baby Zach had blood in his vomit.
      Dr Stokes who is treating Zach at the hospital is baffled about what might have caused Zack's illness, but is even more concerned when Dori refuses to have further tests carried out and leaves the hospital with Zach and Josh who isn't sure what to do for the best but goes with his wife's wishes for them to all return home. Dr Stokes isn't happy with this and the police are sent to bring Zack back to the hospital for tests against the wishes of the parents.
      However, further tests prove nothing and Zack is allowed back home, although Dr Stokes still has her doubts as things just don't add up. Münchausen syndrome by proxy, where parents harm their children to gain attention for themselves, is something that niggles in Dr Stokes' mind and when Zack returns five months later with another mysterious illness just like the first, Dr Stokes decides to act and thus begins proceedings with the child protection services to have baby Zach removed from Dori and Josh...

      I didn't really know what to expect when I began reading this book, but the cover blurb informed me that it is a compelling and devastating story of a seemingly perfect family spinning into crisis. A mother is accused of harming her child and the father is shocked into the realisation that the people he loves the most may be the people he should actually be trusting the least. With words such as "compulsive" and "controversial" describing this novel to the reader, I was suitably intrigued as I began to read this tale of a family's worst nightmare.

      The story starts well with Josh at work as he receives a phone call and rushes off to the hospital as he is told his son has stopped breathing and as events begin to unfold I felt immediately drawn into the story. However, I then felt the momentum stopped as the story switches to the background and life of Dr Darlene Stokes. Born black and poor to a single mother, Darlene worked hard gaining qualifications and won scholarships to both college and medical school. Now she is a doctor, living on her own with her young son to bring up and life is difficult sometimes. However, life becomes even more problematic when her father, a convicted drug dealer who goes by the name of Intelligent Mohammed, gets out of prison and decides to track down his daughter.

      Although parts of Darlene's story are interesting enough, I found a lot of it, particularly relating to her father was long-winded and far too descriptive. The story started so well and made for compulsive reading as promised, but then the sudden story switch I found irritating. Unfortunately, the author spends more time going into Dr. Stokes' backstory than he does on the real story and for a while this saw me skimming through pages, bored and thinking of giving up on the book altogether.
      However, it was the fact that I knew it had to return to the 'real' story eventually which kept me reading and it did. As soon as the story cut back to Josh, Dori and baby Zach, then it became more interesting and exciting again, as they find themselves under suspicion and dealing with assessments and visits from child protective services.

      Whilst none of the characters I found particularly likeable, the character of Dori was interesting and difficult to create I would imagine, so credit must go to the author here for the way in which her character is developed from someone who on the outside appears blissfully content and happy and is a doting wife and mother, to someone who is clearly mentally unwell. Her tension and thoughts are brilliantly described and intriguing to read.
      Dori's husband's support for his wife is without question as he allows her to take the lead when it comes to their son and is proud of his wife as she stands up to the doctors and officials. Josh doesn't doubt his wife for a second as his character demonstrates there are indeed none so blind as those who cannot see.

      More Than It Hurts You is a difficult book to describe and I am not really sure whether I actually enjoyed it or not. The story deals with the issue of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, both honestly and delicately and given that this is such an important issue I fail to see why the author had to delve into other matters such as racism, bi-racial marriages, fatherless families and drug dealing in such detail. These other issues were all in relation to Dr Stokes and her family and upbringing and I thought it must all be heading somewhere as a major sub-plot but it didn't and as a result, I found the inclusion of these issues simply over-complicated things.
      Whilst I am pleased I finished the book and didn't give up on it, More Than It Hurts You could have been so much better if it hadn't dealt with too much needless back story and information. The parts featuring the main story of Josh and Dori with their baby son did make for the 'compelling read' promised, which was at times quiet chilling, but sadly the inclusion of too many other issues made this initially intriguing story become too overwhelming in places.

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