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Submitted Literature

More Than It Hurts You

By Darin Strauss

Review

Novel exploring the controversial disorder Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy, now known as Factitious Disorder – i.e. the falsifying of illness or inducing harm of others.

Josh and Dori Goldin are the apparently adoring parents of baby Zack. The novel is mediated through several different perspectives and a degree of sympathy is afforded to Dori, who it transpires has been deliberately drawing blood from her baby and falsifying illness in him, leading to visits to the Emergency Department and consequently a lengthy case involving Child Protection / Welfare officers along with the doctor in charge of instigating proceedings Dr Darlene Stokes and an array of legal professionals. What is made abundantly clear in the novel is Dori’s genuine love for her child, which complicates the notion of her deliberately harming him. Further complicating this is husband/father Josh’s unwavering belief in the absurdity of the child protection claims and the intrusion he feels from the child protection monitoring and investigation. Add in to the mix an array of medical and legal opinions, and you have an emotionally fraught novel.

It’s difficult to review this novel without being caught up in the enormous controversy that surrounds such cases. From a literary perspective, the novel is fraught with tension and unfolds slowly and shockingly, though potentially less so if read by someone with experience or knowledge of the diagnostic categorization and symptom profile of the disorder. Strauss admirably depicts all sides of the controversy in this novel, without reverting to the sensational. 

Key Themes:

  • Munchausen by Proxy
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

35-36 – ‘ “Look at Zack,” she said. Her own skin had turned red down past her chin, to the glowing throat. “And they’re just going to hurt him more,” she said.

“Mrs Goldin,” said Dr Weiss. “you’re being unreasonable. Just a few more tests and we’ll know what’s going on.”

Dori shifted the way she held her son; she visored her eyes with her hand and something drew back in her expression.

“No,” she said, “look at him. These tests are painful and unnecessary and you’ve hurt him already, you lost an hour when you could have been testing but you misdiagnosed, and I –”

Josh felt, in his brain, the moment when scattered iron filings snap to, in sudden magnetic order. Dori had a propensity to exaggerate now and then, but she’d been in the medicine business. Maybe this stuff did just happen to babies sometimes. He exhaled from his powerful chest. By giving him this chance to be her other half, Dori was also giving him permission to be himself – that is, lucky.

“You know what?” Josh said. “We’re going home.”’

197 – ‘Once a reasonable medical suspicion comes up, New York State obliges a doctor to report any child who might be a victim of abuse or neglect. Even before the Goldins brought in their son a week ago for a second, dodgy emergency visit, Darlene and Dr Weiss had placed opening-salvo calls to Betty Van Der Meer at Child Protection Services. They’d reported – over Weiss’s mute objections – that they likely had found something underhand. That was all well and good, but maybe Darlene should have reported her suspicions sooner? She always had a great, crusading anger; if she’d acted on it sooner, she might have saved that poor baby from what was happening now, she thought. She couldn’t stop wondering about her delays, how they might have harmed the child.’

269 – ‘On all sides, toddlers strode back and forth with their drunkard steps, or squirmed in their strollers. But Zack stayed quiet in his mother’s lap. He was staring and blinking at Dori with the neediness of a faintly sick kid. She actually sort of liked – should she say this? – when he had a cold. There’s a fringe benefit to kids being a little sick; they’re more affectionate and needy. Even as he was sitting there, she felt nostalgic for his presence, for that body warmth, that gratifying human weight on the leg – almost as one would appreciate some soldier boyfriend the night before he went off to war. She rubbed Zack’s hair. It’s weird that a person can love anything this much, that your heart can twist just because a baby coughs.’

Reference: Darin, Strauss. 2008. More Than It Hurts You. London: Atlantic Books, 2010

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 16th April 2010