cover image The Law of Similars

The Law of Similars

Chris A. Bohjalian. Harmony, $23 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70586-5

As he proved in last year's Midwives, Bohjalian is adept at examining social and moral issues fraught with ambiguities. Here, again, he focuses on a fallible protagonist whose lapse in ethical judgment is motivated by love and need. Widower Leland Fowler, the chief deputy state's attorney in Burlington, Vt., has been lonely since his wife was killed in an accident two years previously, leaving him to raise his daughter Abby, now four. When traditional methods fail to cure a persistent sore throat caused by stress, he consults homeopath Carissa Lake, receives a remedy that works on the principle of ""like cures like"" (i.e., using the cause of the illness as the cure)--and falls desperately in love with Carissa. When another of Carissa's patients misinterprets the law of similars and falls into an allergy-induced coma, Leland realizes that Carissa may be accused of malpractice. Abandoning his judgment and his rectitude, Leland instructs Carissa in fabricating and destroying evidence--this while his own office may seek to prosecute her. The consequences are, of course, ineffably sad. Despite his tendency to use foreshadowing with the bluntness of hammer blows, Bohjalian succeeds in escalating tension and communicating the irony of Leland's position. The evocation of domestic routines and the quality of small-town life ring true in beautifully captured details. But despite Bohjalian's evident compassion for decent people who behave irresponsibly in moments of crisis, it may be difficult for readers to accept Leland's unethical behavior, no matter how deep his emotional need. Since credibility is essential in understanding Leland's fall from grace, one finishes the novel wishing that Bohjalian had been able to portray his hero's quandary without so completely betraying Leland's moral principles. Author tour. (Jan.) FYI: Jessica Lange will appear in the ABC TV movie based on Midwives.