My 43rd book of the year was The Law of Similars, by Chris Bohjalian (New York: Harmony Books, 2009).
Summary: "From the best-selling author of Midwives comes a startlingly powerful story of three people whose lives are irrevocably changed by illness, healing, and love. Two years after his wife's sudden, accidental death, a Vermont deputy state prosecutor, Leland Fowler, finds that the stress of raising their small daughter alone has left him with a chronic sore throat. Desperate to rid himself of a malady that has somehow managed to elude conventional medicine, Leland turns to homeopath Carissa Lake -- who cures both his sore throat and the aching loneliness at the root of his symptoms. Just days after Leland realizes he has fallen in love with the first woman who has mattered to him since his wife, one of Carissa's asthma patients falls into an allergy-induced coma. When Carissa comes under investigation, straight-arrow Leland is faced with a moral and ethical dilemma of enormous proportions. Set against the ongoing clash between conventional and alternative medicine -- between what we know science can offer and the miracles that always seem to be just beyond our reach -- The Law of Similars is a haunting and deeply atmospheric tale."
Opening line: "When I awoke after sleeping alone for the first time in almost two years, I hoped I was wrong about the cold."
My take: Worth whatever last-day-of-the-book-sale pittance I paid for it, and a solid sitting-around-the-campsite read -- but not nearly as gripping or intricate as Midwives or The Double Bind. Similars raises some interesting questions, sure: Were Leland's symptoms really the result of an infection, or did they spring from his protracted loneliness and grief? Are there less pharmaceutically-intensive means to treat certain chronic conditions, like allergies and asthma? And some of their implications make for a good story, i.e., Leland's need to look at Carissa's role in Richard's coma just as he himself has finally found relief from his own symptoms. Ditto for Leland's half-jittery, half-guilty dependence on Carissa's arsenic-based remedy.
Where the story falls short, IMO, is in the whole Leland-and-Carissa romance thing. Not only does it give credence to that annoying idea that everything has to have a love story in there somewhere; it's not a particularly good one, and seems to detract from the more intriguing parts of the story. It also strains believability in places; why and how, for example, does Carissa so quickly go from, "No, it's inappropriate for me to date you because you're my patient" to, well, completely abandoning all such reservations. Before they get to that point, Leland's obsession with Carissa comes off more like stalking than like love, and out of character for someone who's supposed to be very straitlaced and by the book. Maybe it's just me, but I'd have been far more interested in the rock and hard place in which Leland found himself just by being one of Carissa's patients, rather than being her paramour. As I said, an OK enough book ... but not the author's best.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.