Lee Pennock Huntington
As Chris Bohjalian of Lincoln puts it, this is a book that was inspired by a nasty, lingering cold that eventually drove him to a homeopath practicing in his home community. She explained to him the law of similars, the foundation of homeopathic treatment, which teaches that "like cures like," prescribing very small doses of natural remedies that might replicate symptoms of illness in a completely healthy person, but will cure those symptoms in someone who is ill.
Homeopathic treatment did cure Bohjalian's cold, and, without making him a whole-hearted advocate of the system, did give him a profound interest in this doctrine first taught in mid-19th century by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. It became the basis of Bohjalian's sixth novel, powerful in its examination not only of the unpredictable effects of this controversial medical process but also of the unpredictable effects it had in this case on a number of people, all of them well-meaning but some of them fallible.
The narrator is Leland Fowler, a deputy state prosecutor of Chittenden County, living in rural East Bartlett. Leland is a widower, his beloved wife having been killed in an automobile accident, leaving him to care for Abby, their two-year old daughter. Abby is now four, Leland is a dedicated father who is feeling the strain of his responsibilities, and suffering from a nasty, lingering, apparently untreatable cold. In desperation he goes to a local homeopath, who is also a psychologist. Carissa Lake spends
some time questioning him on his daily life as a lawyer and single father
and getting an account of his emotional state before prescribing any
treatment. Leland is strongly attracted to Carissa, and in the Christmas
week that follows there is the beginning of a passionate affair. But
simultaneously another patient of Carissa's becomes desperately ill.
Leland, hitherto a model citizen, compromises his legal impartiality in his efforts to protect Carissa from prosecution. Other people's lives are affected, and tensions are crossed like so many fallen power lines sparking in a lethal triangle. -- Vermont Sunday Magazine
While Bohjalian did a good job depicting the psyche of a 14-year-old girl
in Midwives, he seems to have hit his literary stride with Leland
Fowler, whose voice is intimate, credible, and sure in illuminating the
shadows of his soul. Readers who tend to be interrupted should think twice
before starting this novel. Once opened, The Law of Similars is a hard
book to put down.
Chris Bohjalian spins a morality tale spiced with a healthy dose of alternative healing in his new novel, The Law of Similars. At first glance, this story with its widowed father, holistic medicine, death of a patient and prosecution of a healer may seem uncomfortably similar to Bohjalian's gripping 1997 novel, Midwives. The Law of Similars, however, is anything but a tired retread. Rather, it is a look at loneliness, personal ethics, and homeopathic healing in Bohjalian's small corner of Vermont. The novel revolves around deputy state's attorney Leland Fowler, a man doing his best to meet life's demands. Having lost his wife, Elizabeth, in a car accident, Fowler is a focused single parent, juggling work responsibilities with those of being a father to his young daughter. His days are long and full, but his nights are haunted by loneliness and grief.
Two years after Elizabeth's death, Leland is beset by a sore throat so resistant to common nostrums that he seeks the help of the local homeopath, Carissa Lake. Leland finds himself powerfully attracted to Carissa, a first for him since the loss of his wife. While Carissa's holistic medication
heals his throat, her affection begins to once again open his life.
The history and practice of homeopathy provide an interesting and original backdrop to the story. Homeopathic medicine is built on a philosophy governed by the so-called Law of Similars, the belief that like will cure like. A patient is given a diluted dose of a natural substance that might cause symptoms in a healthy person but is thought to remedy the symptoms in someone who is ill.
Leland's burgeoning happiness is cut short when one of Carissa's patients, Richard Emmons, takes the homeopathic philosophy into his own hands. An asthmatic with a severe allergy to nuts, Emmons decides after a short conversation with Carissa to effect his own cure by eating a cashew. The resulting anaphylactic shock leads to death, and Richard's angry wife comes to the state's attorney's office looking for recourse against Carissa.
The conflict that arises as Jennifer Emmons sits in Leland's office, pouring out her grief at the unnecessary death of her husband, is cutting and real. A straight arrow, Leland could immediately recuse himself from
the case by pleading a conflict of interest and direct Jennifer to another
member of the prosecutor's staff. Instead of sitting and allowing the fates
to take another swing at his life, however, he takes charge.
Leland makes choices that he believes will allow him to control his destiny, using his legal knowledge and position in a way that exhibits a profound lack of ethics -- decisions, made on the fly, that come back to him at great price.
The Law of Similars is a fast, fascinating read. While not as viscerally tragic as Midwives, it is a book with its own kind of power.
In raising questions of personal and professional ethics, it is a book that grows upon reflection, moving from a simple story of alternative medicine to a thought-provoking tale of life, choices and personal growth.
...[F]ast-paced and absorbing. Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power.
New York Times Book Review
From the author of the award-winning Midwives, soon to be an ABC-TV movie: a chief deputy state's attorney must investigate the homeopath who has cured his sore throat--and his heartache, too.
Kate, a glamorous New York City based fashion model falls in love with Peter, a successful literary agent. It's the late 1960s when they marry, move to the Hamptons, and have a daughter. Starting their own cottageindustry business, Kate becomes an enormous success as a best selling author, a magazine publisher, and then the head of a homemaking empire. But success is not without its costs. Personal and business pressures drive Kate and Peter into the arms of other lovers. But when a tragedy befalls their daughter, both of them come to realize the truth of their commitment to each other and to their family. American Icon is a superbly written novel that is expertly narrated by Kate Harper in the complete and unabridged production from Chivers Audio Books. With excellent technical production values, this highly recommended addition to any community library audiobook collection has a playing time of 13 hours, 15 minutes.
[His fans will] recognize Bohjalian's warm yet uncloying evocation of a deeply rooted Yankee community torn between old virtues and New Age rememdies, as well as his deft foreshadowing of plot developments top create suspense. -- People Magazine
Bohjalian (Midwives) returns to small-town Vermont for a meditation on grief and healing. But what begins with a strong voice and slow pace loses its center, becoming by the end fraught with strained dialogue and inconceivable plot.
The reader meets Leland Fowler, Deputy State's Attorney in the village of Bartlett, two years after his wife's death. He is single father to six-year-old Abby, and he's developed a gut and a chronic soar throat. Carissa Lake, the homeopath he goes to see, informs him of homeopathy's basic tenet, that like cures like, and prescribes a remedy of arsenic that instantly cures his two-year cold. Leland becomes obsessed with Carissa and the two have a night of love beneath the Christmas tree. But where Leland's grief starts to end is where the couple's trouble begins-one of Carissa's patients falls into a coma that his wife believes is the homeopath's fault, and Leland is the first lawyer to hear her story. Things speed up as Carissa and Leland perform a series of random acts designed to cover up their acquaintance and Carissa's potential guilt. From the night the two of them doctor documents that would chronicle their reckless meetings, the reader is expected to accept the idea that Leland would jeopardize his career, his position in the church and community, and Abby's stability, to help a woman he's slept with once. Meanwhile, the lovers' downward spiral is paralleled by Leland's sketchily told addiction to homeopathic arsenic.
That he makes no connection between the "remedy" and his body's Emma Bovaryesque response, and that no character suffers the consequences of their actions, strains belief.
From the Publisher
"A fast, fascinating read...."Denver Post
"Bohjalian seems to have hit his literary stride with Leland Fowler, whose voice is intimate, credible, and sure in illuminating the shadows of his soul.... Once opened, The Law of Similars is a hard book to put down."The Boston Globe
"Bohjalian [has] a distinctive narrative voice, [an] artful hand with dialogue, and [a] disarming gift for taking the reader into his confidence."Vermont Sunday Magazine
Praise for Midwives:
"A writer of unusual heart."The Boston Globe
"This skillfully constructed, fast-paced novel is not only beautifully written but also as hard to put down as any old-fashioned thriller.... This astonishing story will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned."Washington Post Book World
"Superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful.... It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill a Mockingbird."People
"A treasure.... It is a rare pleasure when a finely written novel also grips us with sheer storytelling power."Portland Oregonian
Read an Excerpt
For almost two full years after my wife died, I slept with my daughter. Obviously, this wasn't Abby's idea (and I think, even if it were, as her father I'd insist now on taking responsibility). After all, she was only two when the dairy delivery truck slammed into her mother's Subaru wagon and drove the mass of chrome and rubber and glass down the embankment and into the shallow river that ran along the side of the road.
In all fairness, of course, it wasn't my idea either. At least the two years part. I'd never have done it once if I'd realized it would go on for so long.
But about a week after Elizabeth's funeral, when Abby and I were just starting to settle into the routine that would become our life, I think the concept that Mommy really and truly wasn't coming back became a tangible reality in my little girl's mindmore real, perhaps, than the lunch box I packed every night for day care, or the stuffed animals that lined the side of her bed against the wall. It happened after midnight. She awoke and called for Mommy and I came instead, and I believe that's exactly when something clicked inside her head: There is no Mommy. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever again.
And so she had started to howl.
Forty-five minutes later, she was still sobbing, and my arms had become lead wings from holding her and rocking her and pacing the room with her head on my shoulder. I think that's when I paced out the door of her room and into mine. Into what had been my wife's and my room. There I placed her upon Elizabeth's side of the bed, pulled the quilt up to her chin, and wrapped one pajamaed arm around her small, heaving back. And there, almost abruptly, shefell asleep. Sound asleep. Boom, out like a light.
Later I decided it was the simple smell of her mother on the pillowcase that had done the trick. I hadn't changed the sheets on the bed in the week and a half since Elizabeth had died.
Of course, it might also have been the mere change of venue. Maybe Abby understood that she wasn't going to be left alone that night in that bed; she knew I wasn't going to kiss her once on her forehead and then go someplace else to doze.
The next night it all happened again, and it happened almost exactly the same way. I awoke when I heard her cries in the dark and went to her room, and once again I murmured "Shhhhhh" by her ear until the single syllable sounded like the sea in my head, while Abby just sobbed and sobbed through the waves. Finally I navigated the hallway of the house like a sleepwalker, my little girl in my arms, and placed her upon what had been Elizabeth's side of the bed, her head atop what had been Elizabeth's pillow.
This time as I lay down beside her I realized that I was tearing, too, and I was relieved that she'd fallen instantly asleep. The very last thing she needed was the knowledge that Daddy was crying with her.
Was the third night an exact replica of nights one and two? Probably. But there my memory grows fuzzy. Had Abby asked me at dinner that evening if she could sleep yet again in Mommy and Daddy's room? In my room,
perhaps? Or had I just carried her upstairs one evening at eight o'clockafter dinner and her bath, after we'd watched one of her videos together in the den, Abby curled up in my lapand decided to read to her in my room instead of hers? I haven't a clue. All I know is that at some point our routine changed, and I was putting Abby to sleep in my bed before coming back downstairs to wash the dinner dishes and make sure her knapsack was packed for day care the next day: Her lunch, a juice box, two sets of snacks. Extra underpants in case of an accident, as well as an extra pair of pants. A sweater eight or nine months of the year. The doll of the moment. Tissues. Lip balm when she turned three and developed a taste for cherry Chap Stick.
I rarely came upstairs before eleven-thirty at night because I had my own work to tend to after I'd put Abby's life in orderdepositions and motions and arguments, the legal desiderata that was my lifebut once I was in bed, invariably I would quickly doze off. The bed was big, big enough for me and my daughter and the stuffed animals and trolls and children's books that migrated one by one from her room to mine. And I reasoned that after all Abby had been through and would yet have to endure, it was only fair for me to give her whatever it took to make her feel safe and sleep soundly.
Occasionally, I'd wake in the middle of the night to find Abby sitting up in bed with her legs crossed. She'd be staring at me in the glow of the night-light and smiling, and often she'd giggle when she'd see my eyes open.
"Let's play Barbie," she'd say. Or, "Can we do puzzles?"
"It's the middle of the night, punkin," I'd say.
"I'm not sleepy."
"Well, I am."
"Okay, you can. But you can't turn on the light."
In the morning, I'd see she'd fallen back to sleep at the foot of the bed with a Barbie in one hand and a plastic troll in the other. Or she'd fallen asleep while looking at the pictures in one of her books, the book open upon her chest as if she were really quite adult.
I learned early that she would sleep through my music alarm in the morning. And so I would usually get up at five-thirty to shower and shave, so that I could devote from six-thirty to seven-thirty to getting her dressed and fed, her teeth brushed, and a good number (though never all) of the snarls dislodged from her fine, hay-colored hair. I usually had her at the day care in the village by twenty to eight, and so most days I was at my desk between eight-fifteen and eight-thirty.
I think it was a few weeks after Abby's fourth birthday, when she was taking a bath and I was on the floor beside the tub skimming the newspaper as she pushed a small menagerie of toy sharks and sea lions and killer whales around in the water, that I looked up and saw she was standing. She was placing one of the whales in the soap dish along the wall, and I realized all of her baby fat was gone. At some point she had ceased to be a toddler, and in my head I heard the words, It's time to move out, kid. We're getting into a weird area here.
The next morning at breakfast I broached the notion that she return to the bedroom in which she'd once slept, and which still housed her clothes and all of the toys that weren't residing at that moment on my bed. Our bed. The bigger bed. And she'd been fine. At first I'd feared on some level her feelings were hurt, or she was afraid she had done something wrong. But then I understood she was simply digesting the idea, envisioning herself in a bed by
"And you'll still be in your room?" she asked me.
That night she slept alone for the first time in almost twenty-three months, and the next morning it seemed to me that she had done just fine. When I went to her room at six-thirty, she was already wide awake. She was sitting up in bed with the light on, and it was clear she'd been reading her picture books for at least half an hour. The pile of books beside her was huge.
I, on the other hand, wasn't sure how well I had done. I'd woken up in the night with a coldwhat I have since come to call the cold. A runny nose, watery eyes. A sore throat. The predictable symptoms of a profoundly common ailment, the manifestations of a disease that decades of bad ad copy have made us believe is wholly benign. Unpleasant but treatable, if you just know what to buy.
There was, in my mind, no literal connection between evicting my daughter and getting sick, no cause and effect. But it was indeed a demarcation of sorts. The cold came on in the middle of that night, the cold thatunlike every cold I'd ever had beforewould not respond to the prescription-strength, over-the-counter tablets and capsules and pills that filled my medicine chest.
The cold that oozy gel caps couldn't smother, and nighttime liquids couldn't drown.
Indeed, things began spiraling around me right about then. Not that night, of course, and not even the next day. It actually took months. But when I look back on all that I riskedwhen I look back on the litany of bad decisions I madeit seems to me that everything started that night with that cold: the very night my daughter slept alone in her room for the first time in two years.
From the eBook edition.