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review 2017-02-04 18:03
After The Cheering Stops (memoir) by Cyndy Feasel
After the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife's Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith that Saw Her Through - Cyndy Feasel,Mike Yorkey

Former NFL wife Cyndy Feasel tells the tragic story of her family’s journey into chaos and darkness resulting from the damage her husband suffered due to football-related concussions and head trauma—and the faith that saved her. 

Grant Feasel spent ten years in the NFL, playing 117 games as a center and a long snapper mostly for the Seattle Seahawks. The skull-battering, jaw-shaking collisions he absorbed during those years ultimately destroyed his marriage and fractured his family. Grant died on July 15, 2012, at the age of 52, the victim of alcohol abuse and a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Cyndy Feasel watched their life together become a living hell as alcohol became Grant’s medication for a disease rooted in the scores of concussions he suffered on the football field. Helmet-to-helmet collisions opened the door to CTE and transformed him from a sunny, strong, and loving man into a dark shadow of his former self. In this raw and emotional memoir that takes a closer look at the destruction wrought by a game millions love, Cyndy describes in painful and excruciating detail what can happen to an NFL player and his family when the stadium empties and the lights go down.

Amazon.com

 

 

Grant Feasel was a 6' 7" lineman for the Seattle Seahawks throughout the 1980s-early 1990s, playing center and long snapper positions. In this memoir, Grant's ex-wife, Cyndy Feasel, recounts all the years of football trauma she witnessed her husband take and how deeply that affected him and their family up until the day he died.

 

 

Cyndy and Grant met while students at Abilene Christian College, where Grant played on the school's football team while studying to be a dentist. Even in those early days, Cyndy would attend his games, watching him get hit or knocked flat out at nearly every game. But coaches would simply wave some smelling salts under his nose and send him back onto the field. Things didn't get any easier when the NFL came calling in 1984. After being offered a position with the Baltimore Colts (who became the Indianapolis Colts shortly after Feasel signed on), Feasel jumped at the opportunity, figuring he could take up his medical degree again later on if the football gig didn't work out. He only got to play for them a short time before the coaches decided he was one of the expendables on the roster. Much to his relief, he was quickly picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. 

 

Minnesota was where I heard, for the first time, Grant saying things like "I got my bell rung" after a game or "I suffered a stinger" in practice. His body took a lot more abuse and I noticed that he was staying longer after practice to get iced and sit in whirlpool baths...Muscles were bruised, and ligaments were stretched and sometimes torn. 

 

Keep in mind that Grant played much of his career on unforgiving artificial surfaces that were like patio carpet rolled onto a concrete slab. The first generation of artificial turf wasn't very sophisticated and lacked the "give" of a traditional dirt-and-grass playing field or today's softer FieldTurf...Grant often complained of "stingers" on Sunday nights. A stinger was an injury to a nerve in the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder. A stinging or burning pain spread from his neck to one of his hands and felt like an electric shock down the arm. Many times I heard him say, "My neck is on fire."

 

I'm sure he was hurting. He'd always say to me, "I can barely turn my head," and I believed him every time I watched him drive and switch lanes; his neck barely swiveled. 

 

During the 1985 Vikings training camp, Grant suffered a major collision with a teammate from the defensive line. That hit caused Grant's left knee to have a major blowout -- his ACL, MCL and meniscus all shredded, immediately bumping him to the team's IR (injured reserve) roster. That is, until around Thanksgiving 1986, when he was dropped yet again. But again, luck was on his side -- the Seattle Seahawks snatched him up for their 1987 season and he stayed with them until his retirement in the early 1990s. The Seahawks coaches were aware of his injury record but were also impressed by his formidable size, his hard-working blue collar mentality and his high intelligence that allowed him to quickly and easily learn plays. By this time, Grant and Cyndy had children to support. Fearing that he could lose his spot on the team and thus his income, Grant dedicated himself to finding any means to bulk up, hoping it would prevent or at least soften further injury... even if that meant turning to steroid usage. 

 

The detrimental hits didn't stop though, no matter what measures Feasel chased. Instead, the norm became him being sent home with first one baggie full of prescription grade pain killers, then multiple baggies. He also turned to his own remedies, mainly a Sunday & Monday night ritual of downing an entire 6 pack of Coors Light with a Vicodin chaser. As Grant approached his last years in the NFL and then retirement, Cyndy saw the gentle, hard-working family man she fell in love with transition into a man of barely bottled rage. Grant's moods spiraled into a dangerous blend of anger, paranoia, and uncharacteristic profane behavior / language. Though he would seek the help of psychiatrists, more often than not he'd simply be sent home with yet more prescriptions for pain killers or mood enhancers / suppressants. In time, Cyndy discovered her husband's secret: abuse of prescription medications. An alarmed and terrified Cyndy watched her once happy marriage descend into a living nightmare of emotional (and later, physical) abuse. 

 

Though Grant's official cause of death was listed as ESLD or End Stage Liver Disease (aka cirrhosis of the liver), Cyndy lays out why she believes her husband essentially committed suicide slowly over the course of nearly 20 years, thanks to his then-undiagnosed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) disease. Grant's brain was donated for study to the "Brain Bank" at Boston University, where the brain matter of numerous deceased NFL players have been sent to be tested for CTE. To date, CTE is a condition that can only be determined postmortem (after death). 

 

CTE can only be tested for postmortem, when scientists study the brain's tissues for a buildup of an abnormal protein known as tau, which was becoming associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and progressive dementia...concussions and "dings" on the football field that aren't allowed to heal thoroughly activate the tau protein, which then moves throughout healthy brain cells. When the frontal lobe -- the seat of socialization, emotional intelligence, and rational thinking -- become affected, the brain deteriorates over time. Memory loss and confusion become more prevalent. 

 

Having recently read the non-fiction work League of Denial, which takes a lengthy look at the topic of the NFL and the CTE epidemic in general, I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to read Cyndy Feasel's personal account of trying to live with someone who battled the condition (though they weren't aware of it at the time). Reading the two works together really cemented in my mind the truth that though the NFL has made progress in better caring for their players, the scourge of CTE is still very much a topic that requires persistent discussion. Near the end of Cyndy Feasel's book, there is a definite lean towards pushing parents to keep their kids away from team sports. While I understand the stance, I personally find it a drastic one.

 

While I am sympathetic of Cyndy's struggles, I was a little put off by how watered down and somewhat bland the writing is here. Though the story is Cyndy's, the writing is actually done by Mike Yorkey. His author blurb gives him credit for writing or co-writing some 100 books to date. Why then was the writing so simplistic? That's what stumped me. For example, did the reader really need an explanation of what Advil is... seriously?! I was also surprised that while Feasel talks of immersively educating herself on the topic of CTE after Grant's death, I didn't see one mention of Dr. Bennett Omalu, though he was instrumental in the discovery of the disease in the first place! (Will Smith portrayed Omalu in the film Concussion).

 

Again, I would recommend checking out League of Denial for an in-depth look at the topic of CTE, but I appreciate Feasel's memoir as a personalized, supplemental offering on the subject. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers & Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-31 20:31
Time Is A River by Mary Alice Monroe
Time Is a River - Mary Alice Monroe

Recovering from breast cancer and reeling from her husband's infidelity, Mia Landan flees her Charleston home to heal in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. She seeks refuge in a neglected fishing cabin belonging to her fly-fishing instructor, Belle Carson. Belle recently inherited the cabin, which once belonged to a grandmother she never knew -- the legendary fly fisher and journalist of the 1920s, Kate Watkins, whose life fell into ruins after she was accused of murdering her lover. Her fortune lost in the stock market crash and her reputation destroyed, Kate slipped into seclusion in the remote cabin. After her death the fishing cabin remained locked and abandoned for decades. Little does Belle know that by opening the cabin doors to Mia for a summer's sanctuary, she will open again the scandal that plagued Belle's family for generations. From her first step inside the dusty cabin, Mia is fascinated by the traces of Kate's mysterious story left behind in the eccentric furnishings of the cabin. And though Belle, ashamed of the tabloid scandal that tortured her mother, warns Mia not to stir the mud, Mia is compelled to find out more about Kate...especially when she discovers Kate's journal. The inspiring words of the remarkable woman echo across the years. Mia has been learning to fly-fish, and Kate's wise words comparing life to a river resonate deeply. She begins a quest to uncover the truth behind the lies. As she searches newspaper archives and listens to the colorful memories of the local small-town residents, the story of a proud, fiercely independent woman emerges. Mia feels a strange kinship with the woman who, like her, suffered fears, betrayal, the death of loved ones, and a fall from grace -- yet found strength, compassion and, ultimately, forgiveness in her isolation. A story timeless in its appeal emerges, with a power that reopens old wounds, but also brings a transforming healing for Mia, for Kate's descendants, and for all those in Mia's new community.

Amazon.com

 

 

Mia Landan, recovering from breast cancer treatments and an unfaithful husband, decides to retreat to the mountains of WNC, specifically Asheville area. There she takes up residence in a cabin owned by her fly-fishing instructor and friend, Belle. Belle lets her live there rent free for the summer under the one condition that she doesn't go digging into the family story behind the cabin (a scandal involving Belle's grandmother). But we need a novel length story here so of course Belle goes digging. She uncovers the tale of Belle's grandmother, Kate Watkins, a 1920s journalist and fly-fishing enthusiast herself who got involved with a married man and was then implicated in his mysterious disappearance.

 

I've lived in & around the Asheville area since 2002 and actually found a copy of this book in a local thrift shop. Always curious of books that involve my city, I immediately took this one home, figuring that the historical fiction element would also greatly appeal to me. Unfortunately this one didn't quite gel with me as I'd hoped.

 

As far as the environment itself, I thoroughly enjoyed that bit. Monroe definitely does justice to the area, offering rich descriptions of the nature around here... though at times I think she painted it a little more rustic than it actually is these days. Some passages had it sounding like Belle was leaving Mia in the wilds of Alaska or something when much of Asheville now is hardly THAT remote lol. I did like Mia in the early parts of the book but some of her decisions later on in the story chipped away at that, so by the end I was just left more with "She's alright, I guess..."

 

What really fell short was the plot. I was hoping for a truly immersive mystery around the story of Kate Watkins, especially for the time period she was living in.... who doesn't want to imagine their town back in the Roarin' Twenties?! But there wasn't too much in the way of that. The "mystery" was pretty straight forward and, to me, unfolded at a slow, bland pace.

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review 2017-01-14 07:17
You Carried Me (memoir) by Melissa Ohden
You Carried Me: A Daughter's Memoir - Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden is fourteen when she learns she is the survivor of a botched abortion. In this intimate memoir she details for the first time her search for her biological parents, and her own journey from anger and shame to faith and empowerment. After a decade-long search Melissa finally locates her birth father and writes to extend forgiveness, only to learn soon thereafter that he has died―without answering her burning questions. Then her birth mother’s parents say they are unable to pass along Melissa’s letter. Years later, when she finally hears from the woman who carried her and gave her life, she finds out why. But the shocking truth is more than she can bear. Yet even the most startling family secrets are eclipsed by the triumphant moment when Melissa becomes a mother herself in the very hospital where she was aborted. And she reveals how―through the miscarriage of her only son, the birth of a second daughter with complex health issues, and her own birth mother’s story―she gained a deep empathy for every woman who has had an abortion. Like none other, this intensely personal story of love and redemption cuts through the debates surrounding a divisive contemporary issue to touch our common humanity.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this certainly unique memoir, author Melissa Ohden tells the story of how she came to be... the kind of story one just doesn't hear every day! In 1977, Ohden's teenage mother became pregnant with her. An appointment for an abortion procedure is made, the appointment is kept, but the procedure itself doesn't really go as planned. Against all odds, after 5 DAYS worth of being pumped full of toxic saline solution Baby Melissa (or Katie Rose as the nurses called her, Melissa was the name her adoptive parents ending up choosing) survives. She is born prematurely, weighing in at just two pounds. After one nurse hears a faint noise coming from the child, a flurry of nurses rush to save her life.

 

{Sidenote: Ohden explains how the saline is made toxic for a fetus in her book -- she notes that a standard abortion procedure from start to finish is typically completed within 48 hours so that gives you an idea of just how much extra solution her little body had to take, making her story all the more miraculous.}

 

Once the newborn is deemed stable, the search for prospective adoptive parents begins. Doesn't take long for a suitable and interested couple to be found but the decision is made to keep Melissa at the hospital until her weight is at least five pounds. When the time comes, Melissa's new parents take her to a farm 100 miles away from where she was born. There she is raised in a loving, nurturing environment out in the farmlands of Iowa. At the age of seven, when her adoptive parents welcome a biological son, it sets off the first sparks of curiosity in Melissa about her own biological parents. But her search for the truth doesn't really begin until a few short years later when during a fight with her sister (also adopted), her sister makes the remark, "At least my mom wanted me." When Melissa presses for an explanation, she's simply told to ask their adoptive mother.

 

Having avoiding talking much about the day of Melissa's birth previously, her adoptive mother comes clean and lays out all the details. Melissa then launches into what will be a decade long search for any information about her birth family. In that time, Ohden battles depression, anorexia, bulimia, as well as a bout of teenage alcoholism and promiscuity, mostly with older men in town. She explains that with the sensation of everything else in her life feeling as if it were running completely off the rails, the eating disorders, drinking and sexual exploration -- though admittedly unhealthy and dangerous -- did seem to be one aspect she could control.

 

Bulimia, alcohol, sex -- these were my unholy trinity of coping mechanisms. They dulled, but didn’t deaden, my torment. That all this suffering was hidden from everyone who knew me seemed to be the point -- I was singularly chosen for misery; I was different, broken, unworthy. Alone.

 

As Melissa embarked on her college journey, she started seeing more and more eerie ties between her own life choices thus far and the little bit she had been able to learn about her birth mother. First off, the college she chooses to attend: shortly after she starts classes, Melissa discovers her school is the very same her birth mother attended (and her maternal grandmother taught at as well!) -- what are the odds, considering she was raised 100 miles away and could've just as easily chosen a school closer to home! The link ends up being too much for her. That, combined with other stressors -- a large part of that being her constantly being silenced whenever she tries to share her abortion-birth story, being shushed part way in or being called a liar later on -- pushes Melissa to make the choice to drop out and re-enroll in courses closer to her hometown. Her college experiences (after the school switch) lead her to take up social work, mostly with domestic violence support groups. A second powerful tie to her birth mother comes during Melissa's own experiences with pregnancy. Ohden has her first delivery in the very same hospital where her mother tried to have her aborted! After having a stillborn son and a daughter with developmental disabilities, Ohden's search for her birth mother begins to feel all the more important. She needs to hear her mother's story, needs to know the why of it all and attempt to make sense of her traumatic origins once and for all. 

 

Melissa's story is a powerful one, no question there. In all honesty though, while I found this book incredibly moving and well-written from start to finish, I struggled with the second half (approx). I will say here and now my issues with this book are for the most part tied up in the fact that Ohden and I do not see entirely eye to eye on the topic of abortion. While this book did help me to understand why she feels the way she feels -- and I can respect her views -- I struggle to put a full stamp of agreement on her opinions. About halfway through this book, it went from being a memoir on her personal journey to a full-on, hardcore pro-life soapbox fest. I myself am very pro-choice but never try to shut down pro-lifers who want their voice heard. I'll hear them out... I think we're on the same page... up to a point. 

 

Here's my thing: I say I am pro-choice because while I could never see myself choosing abortion, I can't speak on the life situations of anyone but myself. I figure the people who choose that path could very well have quite valid reasons for deciding that's the way for them. Ohden here goes on a pretty hard attack of Planned Parenthood. She talks of how she went once for a general check up because they offered services she would've otherwise struggled to afford. But there were abortion protestors out and about one day as she was leaving who got her thinking. She then seemed to feel dirty being anywhere near a PP office. In fact, later on in the book she states that one of the biggest honors of her life was being asked to testify on Capitol Hill in a hearing to consider ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood programs. Again, my stance: I figure there will always be a least a small number of women who will feel the need to choose abortion. If so, at least PP is there to have it done in a clinical setting with medically trained staff, rather than some back alley sitch. Furthermore, so many people these days act like PP is ONLY for abortions when, in fact, I myself have gotten literally life-saving help from the doctors at my local office back when I was too poor to go anywhere else. It was at a PP office that a serious medical condition was found within my heart that is now being regulated... thanks to a PP doctor. So it bugs me when protestors want to so quickly say everything about PP should be shut down. 

 

It's not just the PP story. Throughout the whole second half of the book she keeps bringing up instances where she continues to almost vilify anyone who does chooses "the evil of abortion" as she repeatedly describes it. Near the very end of her story though, she does admit that being the mother of a special needs child did teach her to have more empathy towards those who feel the need to choose abortion (so she says). Being a woman who is unable to have children myself, I also cringed at lines like (describing her first experiences with motherhood), "We were no longer JUST a couple, we were a family." I truly struggle with books that perpetuate this idea that without children a woman's existence is not complete. It just brings out the involuntary eye roll in me. 

 

So that's it. That's why I'm torn. I struggle with my own personal beliefs clashing with Ohden's. Enough to where it makes me uncomfortable as the reader, enough to where I may even feel her views are naive or misguided at times (hey, I'm allowed to have my opinions too -- I AM a blogger after all), but not so much that I shut my ears / mind off to her. In fact, I quite enjoyed hearing her story. As I said, the writing style is impressive, the flow is nice, and while I might not always be on same page with her, I do think she handles a tricky subject with impressive grace, bringing a conversational tone to a topic that very much needs regular discussion. I was even surprised to learn that Ohden and I share a very similar recurring nightmare -- Wild! 

 

I'd recommend this read for anyone interested in the topics of medical education (specifically abortion, obviously), feminism, women's health, women's issues or adoption stories. Differing beliefs or opinions aside, there's always an education to be had in hearing someone else's story. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Handlebar (Plough) Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2016-10-02 12:04
The Lion Is In by Delia Ephron
The Lion is In - Delia Ephron

Tracee is a runaway bride and kleptomaniac. Lana’s an audacious beauty, a recovering alcoholic. Rita is a holy-roller minister’s wife, desperate to escape her marriage. One warm summer’s night, these three women go on the lam together. Their car breaks down on a rural highway in North Carolina and they’re forced to seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned nightclub. Which is where they meet Marcel. And soon everything changes. Marcel, you see, is a lion.  Written with the deftness, humor, and sparkling wit that mark her books, plays, and movies, Delia Ephron’s The Lion Is In is an unforgettable story of friendship, courage, love—and learning to salsa with the king of the jungle.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Tracee and Lana are on the run. Lana is a runaway bride still rocking her gown while Tracee is battling kleptomania and alcoholism. On their way to a new life path they're not sure of just yet, they come across Rita on the side of the road. Rita turns out to be a minister's wife desperately trying to escape her husband's stifling ways. Rita helps the ladies with a flat tire so Tracee and Lana offer to give her a lift to the next town, which Rita accepts. Unfortunately, not long after pulling back onto the road the car has engine trouble so the ladies are forced to pull over once again. Miles away from anything but a shuttered up building, the trio decides to investigate, hoping to find shelter for the night. 

 

The closed up building turns out to be a bar called The Lion. Imagine their surprise on taking a walk-through and discovering Marcel, an actual lion! They find some relief in seeing this feline is in a cage but Rita's curiosity leads her to be the first to bond with him. The following morning, the ladies discover that what they thought was an abandoned place is actually still a bar with regular clientele. The owner, Clayton, is not happy to discover he has temporary squatters in his place of business but once he hears their tale of woe he agrees to let the ladies work for him (as waitresses / kitchen help) long enough to get the funds to repair their car. 

 

So starts the first step in these ladies starting their new life paths. Lana gets herself into a bit of a pickle, having a drunken night out with an off-duty cop that leads to a humorous internal debate the next morning about whether to "borrow" his squad car to get herself back home! Rita's bond with the lion Marcel continues to grow. Her discovery that the two of them seem to love the music of Julio Iglesias (particularly the song "Bambelo") gives her an idea of how to bring more business to Clayton's little watering hole. Her gentle ways also begin to attract the interest of Clayton himself.

 

This story gave me a little of a Boys On The Side vibe, with the different stories unfolding between Tracee, Lana and Rita. Tracee and Tim's budding romance was adorable; I loved how Tim had a bit of old world gentleman style to his way about him. When we get introduced to Rita's estranged husband later in the later parts of the story -- ugh, I just found him disgusting and could completely see why Rita had reached her limit with him!

 

 

"Do you know the Theory of One?"

 

"No."

 

The Theory of One, he explains, means that all you need in life is one person to make a difference in your life. "You can have the world's most awful life," says Tim, "but if one person believes in you, you'll be okay....I would like to be your one."

 

"Isn't it too late?"

 

"Hell, no. I'm your one."

 

I also got a kick out of Delia Ephron's acknowledgement page. Not only does she give a shout-out to my hometown, San Diego (specifically the Wild Animal Park where she observed the lions to get a feel for Marcel's mannerisms) but she also gives nods to not only her late sister, director / screenwriter Nora Ephron (famous for movies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia) but also actress Natasha Lyonne (who appeared in the play Love, Loss and What I Wore, written by the Ephron sisters). Apparently these two women served also served as readers for early drafts of The Lion Is In

 

____________

 

Note on the author: Delia Ephron, along with being a novelist, is also a successful film producer and screenwriter. She wrote the screenplays for movies Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, You've Got Mail, and Bewitched (the big screen adaptation of the tv show). She also served as producer on You've Got Mail and her sister's film (both films starring Tom Hanks), Sleepless in Seattle.

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review 2016-09-17 19:51
More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss
More Than It Hurts You: A Novel - Darin Strauss

Josh Goldin's happy yet unexamined existence is shattered one morning when his wife, Dori, rushes their eight-month- old son to the emergency room in severe distress. Dr. Darlene Stokes, an African-American physician and single mother, suspects Munchausen by proxy, a rarely diagnosed and controversial phenomenon where a mother intentionally harms her baby. As each of them is forced to confront a reality that has become a nightmare, Darlene, Dori, and Josh are pushed to their breaking points. Darin Strauss's extraordinary novel is set in a world turned upside down-where doctors try to save babies from their parents, police use the law to tear families apart, and the people you think you know best end up surprising you the most.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Dori Goldin is at home with her infant son, Zack, when the baby starts spewing blood and vomit. She rushes him to the nearest emergency room where the child is immediately thrown into a number of tests to try to discover the source of his illness. Meanwhile, Dori's tv advertising executive husband, Josh, gets word of his son's condition and immediately rushes from work to meet his wife at the hospital. Once there, he finds himself startled to discover that Zack's attending physician is Dr. Darlene Stokes, head of the pediatrics unit. She also happens to be black. Weirdly, Josh immediately starts to fear that Dr. Stokes will assume Josh is racist and take it out on his son during his testing and treatment, but Josh tries to assure himself that because Dori is of Turkish blood, no one could call him racist. Even worse, Josh follows up this line of thinking with a comment to his wife later that evening, when he admits that he "didn't trust a thing about that doctor's looks."

 

While at the hospital, Zack's vitals takes a sudden nosedive. He starts to code. ER staff is able to stabilize him again but the incident sets up the story for all the drama that's about to unfold. While looking into Zack's short medical history thus far, Dr. Stokes starts to suspect Dori Goldin of having Munchhausen by Proxy, a controversial medical condition in which a mother is suspected of intentionally injuring -- whether through physical abuse or internal (ie. intentionally poisoning, but not enough to kill) her child and then presenting the injuries as just mysteriously cropping up. Sometimes this is for the sake of seeking attention, other times the reasoning is more difficult to determine. But once Dr. Stokes vocalizes her concerns with other colleagues, a media and legal firestorm ensues. The hospital fears being held liable for Zack coding while Dori Goldin is outwardly outraged over what she perceives as a kind of defamation of character. Inwardly though, the Goldins fear the hospital coming after them as unfit parents.

 

A news story breaks that tries to discredit Dr. Stokes' diagnosis. This story latches onto the fact that while in college, Dr. Stokes was involved in a campus group that some could possibly perceive as an anti-white / Black Power kind of party. They also harp on the fact that she was raised fatherless (her father was incarcerated during those childhood years) as well as being once married to a Jewish white man who ended up leaving her. Of course the story leaves out a lot of pertinent details, instead being swayed to vilify Dr. Stokes, but when she tries to talk out her reasoning behind the diagnosis with a colleague, Dr. Weiss (who was actually the doctor on call the night Zack coded), Stokes is surprised to find Weiss skeptical. Weiss points out that most doctors are hesitant to even mutter the words Munchausen by Proxy simply because there's not enough definitive research out there to back up their suspicions. Weiss himself admits to being unsure if he believes it to be an actual disorder or just an unfortunate misreading of patients. Stokes starts to doubt herself somewhat, wondering if maybe she did misread Dori Goldin, even though Stokes reminds herself that she has seen the condition listed in the DSM under "pathology". Still, she can't help but ask herself if she did indeed miss something crucial? Is the hospital actually at fault on this one?

 

Strauss' novel definitely brings up a subject to ponder on, but I question how well it was done. In some ways this story felt deeply complex and detailed, but in other ways it had a feel of being all over the place. I periodically felt myself wondering if Strauss struggled to decide what story he wanted to tell, because there's more than one major one here -- outside of the drama around the MBP diagnosis, More Than It Hurts You also gets into the struggles surrounding race inequality and how absentee parents during a child's pivotal years can affect that child's personality and sense of who they are right up into adulthood. While all valid and interesting topics for dramatic fiction, I didn't feel like they were always seamlessly woven together here. Dr. Stokes' struggle with racial prejudice was well done and actually did mesh well with the MBP storyline, but I thought the portions with her being reacquainted with her father ran on a bit long, maybe could have been quick interludes, rather than whole large chunks of chapters dedicated to such a small part of the overall plot. 

 

While the MBP storyline was the major reason my curiosity begged me to pick this book up (that and I had read and liked Strauss' novel Chang & Eng), I felt like Strauss struggled to stay on topic when it came to this portion of the novel. The words Munchhausen by Proxy, though hinted at, are not officially said until about 140 pages into this 400 page novel. The suspense around Dori Goldin (you know, the whole "did she or didn't she?") could've been built up so much more. But after a few brief mentions of MBP at that 140pg mark, the story doesn't really focus a spotlight of suspicion on her until another 40+ pages. In the novel's entirety, there are actually only a small handful of scenes that give the reader a glimpse into what might be going on in the Goldin home, which I found pretty frustrating.

 

As for the Goldins themselves, I personally found them incredibly unlikeable, MBP story aside. Dori comes off as sometimes overly dramatic, very hyper, bull-in-a-china-shop reaction to relatively low key situations (ie, just someone calmly talking / stating facts). Josh seems a little intimidated by his wife when she gets like this, but he's not without fault either. While Dori has moments where she gets upset and goes off on manic, homophobic / racist sounding tirades, the reader is given insight into some pretty disturbing self-realizations of Josh's .... such as him admitting that he actually did not love his son until weeks after the birth ... or how if his son ends up dying, that he "could get over it." 

 

I won't put all the blame on the Goldins though. Honestly, I think Dr. Stokes was about the only character in this whole thing that I DID like... unless you count baby Zack, but since he doesn't actually have any lines... Anyway, this one ended up not being as much of a winner for me as I was hoping. If you're looking to get into Strauss' work, my recommendation would be to start with his historical fiction novel Chang and Eng

 

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