I will start the discussion today with a few of my own thoughts on the book, which ultimately won me over. When Strauss is at his most relaxed writing, he creates a very compelling story. However, in this particular book, it seems to take him quite a while before he hit his stride. In fact, during the early part of the novel, Strauss seems overly self-conscious, his writing a bit artificial, at times even smirky. For me, More Than It Hurts You did not actually take off until about page 96, which is, alas, a long way to go.
What happens in the first 95 pages is a lot of posturing and trying to settle in, a bit of searching, which can lead to some graceless and unconvincing sentences: "She was prim as Popeye's Olive Oyle, with the same shapeless frankfurter torso;" and "She fired a huff from the cannon of her nose." Phrases like "raising a Clooney eyebrow" and "a tantrum-repelling calm" really clog up the works.
A better editor would have served this author well by going through and cutting everything inside the ubiquitous parentheses because they work to slow down the pace of the novel and reveal the author's unsubtle hand. Clever asides, such as the ones found in More Than It Hurts You, tend to suggest a smirking attitude toward the characters, or the novel, or even the fact that fiction is an artifice--never a good idea.
Finally, in the criticism column, the prison-release bus chapter, where Muhammad, our doctor/hero's father, gets out of jail, is something of a train wreck in terms of tone and overwriting. Here Strauss needs the lightest of light touches, but he seems to go at the scene with a pick axe and shovel.
All that said, Strauss does get the marriage of the Goldin's just right. He tackles complex issues with a delicate balance, and convincingly renders parental feelings during a crisis. By page 97, I was totally in for the ride, especially won over by the author's efficient portrayal of his female characters: Dr. Darlene Stokes and Dori Goldin, who is, let's face it, a difficult character to nail. (I have a very minor character in my novel with a similar penchant for munchausen, though my character's reasons are very different. Still: I know first hand that it's not easy.) For me, everything about Dori Goldin seems exactly right on the mark, and happily the narrative satisfies her story completely.
Strauss handles the ending quite masterfully, I thought, by following the startling legal decision with an emotionally keen conclusion for Dr. Stokes and Josh Goldin and finally the Goldin marriage, that seems just right.
By the last page, I was genuinely impressed.
In my humble opinion, if Strauss can pull back a bit on the overwriting, he can avoid the sentences that get in the way of what he does best, which is unfolding a complex, interesting story about human emotions that are put to the test.
So, that is my two cents. Now let's hear what the mice have to say. In your opinion, how successful was Strauss' book? What were his strengths? What were his weaknesses? Has your opinion of his success as a celebrated author changed in any way? Has he earned the confident smile from his author photo?