The Law of Similars

The Law of Similars

by Chris Bohjalian
3.7 27

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The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian

" 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.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Chris Bohjalian's The Light in the Ruins.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400032969
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/13/2002
Series: Vintage Contemporaries
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 123,304
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; The Double Bind; and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont.


Lincoln, Vermont

Date of Birth:

August 12, 1961

Place of Birth:

White Plains, New York


Amherst College

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."


"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.

"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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Chris Bohjalian's The Law of Similars. In this riveting novel, a lawyer risks everything to protect a young woman whose practice of alternative medicine leads to a legal inquiry and raises profound questions about the links between hope and hubris, love and deception.


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.


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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Law of Similars 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
kuhlcat More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
eagle3tx More than 1 year ago
Great insight into Homeopathic medicine. Patient goes comatose, but did the practitioner give bad advice, or did the patient self-medicate. Local DA is romantically involved with the doctor, setting up conflict of interest and moral dilemma . Rating based on interesting homeopathy info. Not as good as other of his books.
Jurate Walker More than 1 year ago
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.
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CLSR More than 1 year ago
A vast opening into the world of alternative medicine. It speaks with a researched tongue and poignant feelings. Good stuff in a short story.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.