The Law of Similars

( 26 )

Overview

" The Law of Similars is fast-paced and absorbing. Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power."-The New York Times Book Review

From the number one bestselling author of Midwives comes this riveting medical thriller about a lawyer, a homeopath, and a tragic death.  When one of homeopath Carissa Lake's patients falls into an allergy-induced coma, possibly due to her prescribed remedy, Leland Fowler's office ...

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Overview

" The Law of Similars is fast-paced and absorbing. Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power."-The New York Times Book Review

From the number one bestselling author of Midwives comes this riveting medical thriller about a lawyer, a homeopath, and a tragic death.  When one of homeopath Carissa Lake's patients falls into an allergy-induced coma, possibly due to her prescribed remedy, Leland Fowler's office starts investigating the case.  

But Leland is also one of Carissa's patients, and he is begining to realize that he has fallen in love with her.  As love and legal obligations collide, Leland comes face-to-face with an ethical dilemma of enormous proportions.  Graceful, intelligent, and suspenseful, The Law of Similars is a powerful examination of the links between hope and hubris, love and deception.

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Editorial Reviews

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

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

Boston Globe
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.
Denver Post
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.

Liz Rosenberg
...[F]ast-paced and absorbing. Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power.
New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
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.
From The Critics
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.
Liz Rosenberg
...[F]ast-paced and absorbing. Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power. -- The New York Times Book Review
Pam Lambert
[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
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679771470
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/14/2000
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 357,725
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eight novels, including Midwives, (a # 1 New York Times bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club® selection), Trans-Sister Radio, and The Buffalo Soldier—as well as Idyll Banter, a collection of magazine essays and newspaper columns.

His work has been translated into seventeen languages, been published in twenty countries, and twice become acclaimed movies, (“Midwives” and “Past the Bleachers”).  In 2002 and he won the New England Book Award.

Biography

It was March 1986 when Chris Bohjalian made a decision that would have an incalculable impact on his writing. He and his wife had just hailed a taxi home to Brooklyn after a party in Manhattan's East Village when they suddenly found themselves on a wild and terrifying 45-minute ride. The crazed cabbie, speeding through red lights and ignoring stop signs, ultimately dropped the shaken couple off... in front of a crack house being stormed by the police. It was then that Bohjalian and his wife decided that the time had come to flee the city for pastoral Vermont. This incident and the couple's subsequent move to New England not only inspired a series of columns titled "Idyll Banter" (later compiled into a book of the same name), but a string of books that would cause Bohjalian to be hailed as one of the most humane, original, and beloved writers of his time.

While Bohjalian's Manhattan murder mystery A Killing in the Real World was a somewhat quiet debut, follow-up novels (many of which are set in his adopted state) have established him as a writer to watch. A stickler for research, he fills his plotlines with rich, historically accurate details. But he never loses sight of what really draws readers into a story: multi-dimensional characters they can relate to.

The selection of his 1997 novel Midwives for Oprah's Book Club established Bohjalian as a force to be reckoned with, igniting a string of critically acclaimed crowd pleasers. His literary thriller The Double Bind was a Barnes & Noble Recommends pick in 2007.

Good To Know

Bohjalian's fascination with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald extends beyond the author's prominent influence on The Double Bind. In an interview with Loaded Shelf.com, Bohjalian estimated that he owns "at least 42 different editions of books by or about F. Scott Fitzgerald."

. Two of Chris Bojalian's novels have been adapted into critically acclaimed TV movies. An adaptation of Past the Bleachers with Richard Dean Anderson was made in 1995, and a version of Midwives starring Sissy Spacek and Peter Coyote debuted in 2001.

In our interview with Bohjalian, he shared some fascinating and fun facts about himself:

"I was the heaviest child, by far, in my second-grade class. My mother had to buy my pants for me at a store called the "Husky Boys Shop," and still she had to hem the cuffs up around my knees. I hope this experience, traumatizing as it was, made me at least marginally more sensitive to people around me."

"I have a friend with Down syndrome, a teenage boy who is capable of remembering the librettos from entire musicals the first or second time he hears them. The two of us belt them out together whenever we're driving anywhere in a car.

"I am a pretty avid bicyclist. The other day I was biking alone on a thin path in the woods near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, and suddenly before me I saw three bears. At first I saw only two, and initially I thought they were cats. Then I thought they were dogs. Finally, just as I was approaching them and they started to scurry off the path and into the thick brush, I understood they were bears. Bear cubs, to be precise. Which is exactly when their mother, no more than five or six feet to my left, reared up on her hind legs, her very furry paws and very sharp claws raised above her head in a gesture that an optimist might consider a wave and guy on a bike might consider something a tad more threatening. Because she was standing on a slight incline, I was eye level with her stomach -- an eventual destination that seemed frighteningly plausible. I have never biked so fast in my life in the woods. I may never have biked so fast in my life on a paved road."

"I do have hobbies -- I garden and bike, for example -- but there's nothing in the world that gives me even a fraction of the pleasure that I derive from hanging around with my wife and daughter."

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    1. Hometown:
      Lincoln, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 12, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      White Plains, New York
    1. Education:
      Amherst College
    2. Website:

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 mind—more 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, she fell 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'clock—after dinner and her bath, after we'd watched one of her videos together in the den, Abby curled up in my lap—and 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 order—depositions and motions and arguments, the legal desiderata that was my life—but 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."

"Pleeeeeeeease?"

"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 herself.

"And you'll still be in your room?" she asked me.

"Of course."

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 cold—what 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 that—unlike every cold I'd ever had before—would 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 risked—when I look back on the litany of bad decisions I made—it 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.

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First Chapter

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 mind -- more 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, she fell 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'clock -- after dinner and her bath, after we'd watched one of her videos together in the den, Abby curled up in my lap -- and 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 Chapstick.

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 order -- depositions and motions and arguments, the legal desiderata that was my life -- but 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."

"Pleeeeeeeease?"

"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 herself.

"And you'll still be in your room?" she asked me.

"Of course."

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 cold -- what 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 that -- unlike every cold I'd ever had before -- would 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 risked -- when I look back on the litany of bad decisions I made -- it 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.

Copyright © 1999 by Chris Bohjalian. All rights reserved.

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Introduction

Chris Bohjalian, author of the critically acclaimed and Oprah-approved novel Midwives, returns to the Green Mountain State for his latest story of the conflict between conventional and alternative medicine and the law. Two years after his wife's fatal car accident, the stress of raising his four-year-old daughter alone has taken its toll on Chief Deputy State's Attorney Leland Fowler. Plagued by anxiety, sleeplessness, and a chronic cold that has defied every physician-prescribed remedy, Leland turns to the beautiful Burlington homeopath Carissa Lake, who cures both his sore throat and the aching loneliness at the root of his problems. But when one of Carissa's patients falls into an irreversible coma as the result of her homeopathic cure, Leland is faced with an overwhelming moral and ethical dilemma.
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Interviews & Essays

Before the live bn chat, Chris Bohjalian agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q: Are you personally a believer in alternative medicine?

A: As a matter of fact, The Law of Similars was inspired by a cold. It was one of those colds that lingered -- not unlike the cold that would eventually beleaguer Leland Fowler, the novel's narrator. My daughter was in a new day care, which meant I was making contact with every single cold germ medical science has cataloged. Nothing was able to keep me cold-free for more than a day or two, not even that workhorse of over-the-counter new age wonder drugs, echinacea. And so I finally decided I'd visit a homeopath. I wasn't exactly sure what homeopathy was, but the remedies sounded exotic: tarantula and arsenic and gold. Belladonna. Pulsatella. The black widow spider. I don't think I imagined there was a novel in homeopathy, however, until I met the homeopath, and she explained to me the protocols of healing. There was a poetry to the language that a patient doesn't hear when visiting a conventional doctor: "Herring's law of cure." "Succussing the remedy." And of course, the foundation for treatment, "the law of similars." In essence, I liked the words.

On my second visit, I was given my remedy, and I was surprised to discover that it worked. Or, perhaps, the timing was right and the colds went away on their own. I'll never know. Either way, the colds indeed disappeared, and they didn't come back for almost a year. Does this mean that I'm a convert to homeopathy, a passionate, proselytizing, fully swayed "homey-disciple"? Not completely -- although I do think the world of my homeopath. But I still see a conventional physician as well, and I still take prescription medications. I am still more likely to take an Advil for a headache than ignatia (the St. Ignatius bean) or aconite (wolfsbane).

But -- and I guess this is my fundamental answer to your question -- I am convinced that the bridge between body and mind is more sturdy than I'd once believed. That link may be invisible, but it is profound. I wasn't sure if there was any real magic in those tiny homeopathic pills that I had swallowed, but there was certainly something alluring and seductive in the art itself. Make no mistake, however -- The Law of Similars is not a novel about homeopathy. It is simply a novel in which homeopathy -- or actually, the miracles in all medicine that seem always to be just beyond our reach -- plays a role.

Q: How do you think your writing has changed over the years? Do you see a progression in writing from Water Witches to Midwives to The Law of Similars? A: Well, I hope my writing has improved with each book. I'd hate to think I'm getting worse as I creep past my mid-30s. Actually, I'm not sure if I'm a better stylist, but I may have improved as a storyteller. I think I may have a better sense of plot, and a surer ability to move a tale forward. Now, if you were to ask me if my three most recent novels (Water Witches, Midwives, and The Law of Similars) were in some way different from my first three (A Killing In the Real World, Hangman, and Past the Bleachers), I'd say absolutely. There are reasons those early novels are out of print, and all of them are good.

Q: What does Chris Bohjalian read when he goes on a family vacation to Florida? A: I read Patrick McCabe's Breakfast On Pluto (because McCabe is a brilliant stylist, and I'm writing a novel about a transsexual lesbian in love); Aimee Bender's short story collection, The Girl In the Flammable Skirt (because I loved the title); and Tony Horwitz's Confederates In the Attic (because, like Horwitz, I too grew up obsessed with the Civil War). I enjoyed each book immensely.

Q: In The Law of Similars, Leland Fowler basically has to choose between his passion for a woman and his passion for the law. What type of research did you do to get inside the head of a man with such a dilemma? A: In some ways, it was much easier to get inside Leland Fowler's head than inside the heads of the narrators of my other novels -- including, most recently, 31-year-old female OB-Gyn Connie Danforth, the narrator of Midwives. After all, Leland is a 30-something male with a receding hairline who sometimes "just doesn't get it." That could be me -- at least the 30-something male with the receding hairline part. But it nevertheless demanded research, because I wanted Leland's story to have the emotional weight of memoir. And that, in turn, meant understanding the minutiae of how a state's attorney (or criminal prosecutor) spends his days. Consequently, I followed a state's attorney around, I watched trials, and I interviewed state's attorneys at length. The moral dilemma that confronts Leland Fowler, however, was never research-driven. My characters quickly develop lives of their own -- their own strengths and weaknesses and comfort (or discomfort) with moral ambiguity. I usually have a vague notion of what I want to happen in a scene, but very often it feels as if I'm being led by my characters: They know what they want and what they need. I just try to herd them in a general direction and hope they will follow. For example, I honestly did not know whether midwife Sibyl Danforth would be convicted or acquitted in Midwives until I was four fifths of the way through the novel. Likewise, I honestly didn't realize just how far lovers Leland Fowler and Carissa Lake might fall in The Law of Similars until I was two thirds of the way into a first draft.

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Reading Group Guide

1) Carissa Lake is a psychologist as well as a homeopath. In what ways do these two disciplines reinforce each other in her treatment of patients? What effect do her questions about his personal life have on Leland? Does the success of Leland's cure depend on his willingness to trust Carissa?

2) How does Richard Emmons's motivation for trying homeopathy differ from Leland's? Do you think that his fear of the long-term effects of conventional medicine is realistic and that Jennifer too willingly accepts the authority of the medical establishment?

3) Within a week of taking Carissa's medication, Richard's skin clears up and the aches in his joints diminish. In light of this, do you think his decision to give up the inhaler and pills he took for his asthma was reasonable? Do his actions justify Jennifer's opposition to homeopathy or do they indicate a flaw within Richard himself? Should Carissa have recognized that Richard's demands for more medication were a prelude to his decision to take matters into his own hands?

4) The two events at the heart of The Law of Similars occur almost simultaneously on Christmas Eve: Leland and Carissa make love for the first time and Richard attempts to medicate himself by eating cashews. What do these events reflect about the character of each man? Are there similarities between the risks they both take in hopes of creating a better future for themselves?

5) When Leland realizes that Carissa might be charged with a criminal offense because of Jennifer's accusations, why doesn't he leave Carissa's house immediately? Is it wrong for him to put his feelings for Carissa above what he knows he should do as a lawyer? Discuss the distinction he makes between the "ethical" thing to do and the "moral" thing to do. [p. 135]

6) Carissa readily admits that she made a joke about eating cashews to Richard in the health food store. Do you think "Richard Emmons was an idiot who mistook an offhand remark...for medical advice"? [p. 139] Or did Carissa fail to live up to an essential professional obligation to answer Richard's questions responsibly even in a light-hearted conversation?

7) At what point does Leland cross the line between his commitment to upholding the law and his commitment to Carissa? Should he have reported his involvement with Carissa to his boss and the state trooper immediately, even though no criminal charges were pending? Should he have refused to interview Jennifer Emmons?

8) Carissa accuses Leland of treating her like a criminal when he first questions her about her conversation with Richard, and Leland makes the same accusation when his boss presses him for the details about his relationship with Carissa. How do these two occasions differ from each other, and what do they reveal about Carissa's and Leland's understanding of the situation and its likely consequences?

9) Why does Carissa agree to doctor her notes on treating Richard? Do you think her deference to Leland is excessive? Does his insistence that she is only protecting herself from a possible miscarriage of justice exonerate her for participating in what she correctly believes is an illegal act? Do you think her ultimate decision to leave the United States was the only one she could have made in order to live as she wanted to?

10) Each chapter is introduced with a quotation from the works of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. How do they add to your understanding of the book? Discuss their function as a backdrop—or gloss—for the actual events of the plot.

11) What is the significance of Leland's increasing dependence on the arsenic pills he takes from Carissa's office? How do his reactions over the course of the novel—from his initial exhilaration to the unpleasant physical symptoms and fears he suffers at the end—relate to the law of similars that informs homeopathy?

12) When Midwives was first published, it led to an often heated debate about the literal and metaphoric place of birth in our culture. Do you think The Law of Similars will stimulate an equally earnest discussion about the role alternative medicine should play in health care?

13) Chris Bohjalian has said that The Law of Similars is about forgiveness. How successful are the three main characters—Leland, Carissa, and Jennifer—at forgiving themselves and each other?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    great read

    It's always nice to read a book about a town and state you're familiar with. My sister went to St. Michael's College near Burlington, VT, so I've been up to Burlington a few times. As the story went along, I would try to match Leland's views of the city with the ones in my memory, and it helped to place my imagination at the scene.

    As with many of Chris's books, I enjoyed this one. He's much like Jodi Picoult in that he takes subjects that are controversial or not very well known and places people in the middle of that type of situation. Who really knows a lot about homeopathy, other than homeopaths? It's very educational to read about the Law of Similars, and what would drive a man allergic to cashews to think that eating one would be a good idea.

    From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story. Leland is a very flawed, very real character; the loving father of Abby, but still a man who has his own fears and doubts and who makes mistakes. The story is mostly from his point of view, but it includes his thoughts on other characters as well, such as Jennifer's skepticism of the homeopathic remedies her husband takes, and Carissa's concerns about how her patient interprets her words. The skipping around at first may seem random, but it fits with the story like pieces of a puzzle.

    This is a great book with which to curl up on the couch with a cat on your lap and a cup of coffee in your free hand. It pulls you in from the very start and you don't want to let go until you turn the last page.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2000

    Really a Letdown

    I really enjoyed Bohjalian's Midwives, but found The Law of Similars to be a shallow story without much character development.There are no great twists as in Midwives. I will continue to read his other novels in hopes that there will be varying themes

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011

    another page turner from Chris Bohalian.

    I have read several of his books and I. can not help but marvel at how his mind thinks. I Find his characters to be sad but also kind. Homeophathy is a subject that leaves me with a lot of questions but the story that he weaves around the subject is fascinating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    WHAT'S IN THE BOTTLE? READ AND SEE.

    A vast opening into the world of alternative medicine. It speaks with a researched tongue and poignant feelings. Good stuff in a short story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2006

    Could not put it down!

    I have really enjoyed other books by this author but this was definitely my favorite book of his, even better than Midwives. I could not put it down! I just loved the story and his style of writing, how he weaves the stories of the different characters together and gives lots of foreshadowing. That said, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. I also didn't really care for the main character, Leland. He seemed somewhat pathetic to me, the way he was 'obsessed' with Carissa and her cure. But, overall, it was a great read and I'd recommend it to fans of his or those looking for another great author to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2002

    Great book by a great writer!

    If you haven't read Chris yet, this is a good book to start with. It's a great story. The way it unfolds is perfect. It's a quick read, you can't put it down. I read it in 2 days. I think it was an interesting look at homeopathy. Very easy for someone to understand who doesn't know anything about it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2001

    A huge disappointment from an amazing writer

    After reading Midwives, I couldn't wait to read another Chris Bohjalian novel. Unfortunately, I found the story lacking the creativity and fire that Midwives had. I know how amazing a writer Mr. Bohjalian is, and this novel definitely does not display his talents to the utmost degree.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2001

    Riveting

    I loved Law of Similars. It was thought provoking in that it portrayed characters that are essentially good natured, but intentionally or not cause bad things to happen. Instinctively we want someone to be held accountable when a tragedy occurs, but somtimes no one can be, or should be. I appreciate the insight into Homeopathy. I've suggested the book to many friends, including homeopathy itself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2000

    Bohjalian Is A Master

    For the five or six people left who HAVEN'T read Chris Bohjalian's Oprah pick, 'Midwives', I say give yourself the treat of reading 'The Law of Similars' first. You'll find that Bohjalian is a fearless storyteller with a knack for finding the most interesting way between two plot points. 'The Law of Similars' has a crystal-clear story, that generates profound moral ambiguity. Once you've finished 'Similars,' you can be one of the few to read 'Midwives' next. You'll see they are both page-turners with lots of heart and lots of brain.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2000

    Tough Choices, Good Read

    If you want a good story with interesting people faced with moral dilemmas, this is a book for you. It examines all the conflicts people face these days: career vs. family, self vs. others, and even traditional versus natural medicine. And, it does so in a way which carries you gracefully and realistically through each conflict.

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