"Like cures like," Carissa explained to me. "That's essentially what we mean by the Law of Similars."
Carissa Lake is a homeopath --- a practitioner of a form of alternative medicine that uses small amounts of herbs (that in large amounts would be deadly) to cure a variety of illnesses.
Leland Fowler is a Deputy State's Attorney in a small town in Vermont. He is recently widowed, raising his young daughter by himself, and achingly lonely.
A persistent sore throat brings him to Carissa's office. Almost immediately he is intrigued by her, and his interest grows when she cures his sore throat with arsenic. For the first time since his wife's death, Leland believes he could have a life with another woman.
Within days of Leland's realization that he has fallen in love with her, one of Carissa's patients falls into an irreversible coma, induced, possibly, by Carissa's advice to her patient.
Despite the fact that his office begins an investigation of Carissa and her homeopathic practice, and in violation of the canon of legal ethics that require attorneys to remain disinterested and neutral, Leland decides to help Carissa avoid prosecution. He launches a cover-up that involves having her rewrite her notes about the patient in question, erasing her computer files, and coaching her regarding what to tell both her lawyer and the attorneys in his office.
Chris Bohjalian's great talent is to bring his readers into the lives of ordinary people at the moment that those lives begin to unravel, and with great compassion, demonstrate the struggles that ensue. MIDWIVES brought us the story of Sibyl Danforth, a midwife caught in the middle of controversy when one of her patients dies while giving birth. In THE LAW OF SIMILIARS he introduces us to yet another family drawn into a moral dilemma.
Readers may not agree with either Carissa or Leland's actions, but I suspect that most will understand why they do what they do. Whether they were right or wrong, and whether the end of the story leaves the characters better or worse off, I leave for you to judge. But this I promise --- you will be thinking about this book long after you have finished it.
Reviewed by Judith Handschuh on January 24, 2011
The Law of Similars