You need not have read Frank Huyler's THE LAWS OF INVISIBLE THINGS
to know that there is something lyrical in the practice of
medicine, but it helps. You need only to have watched television's
E.R. to understand that, amidst the technical terms and the
clipped jargon, there is something about the urgent rhythms of an
emergency room that approaches, well, if not poetry, then something
not too far removed from it.
Huyler is a doctor, and a poet, and knows how the two disciplines
intersect. His first novel is set in the medical world, but sends
out long, serpentine feelers into the realm of poetry. THE LAWS OF
INVISIBLE THINGS concerns Dr. Michael Grant, a recent arrival to
North Carolina, trying to settle down in a new city and a new
practice. But disturbing things keep happening, one right after the
other, all of them interrelated by one mysterious secret.
There is, first of all, the little girl whose death we learn about
in the opening pages. One moment, she is in Dr. Grant's office,
sitting on her mother's knee, with a fever --- nothing that looks
too serious, nothing that can't be controlled with the proper
treatment and, perhaps, a lollipop. Hours later, before a diagnosis
is made and before antibiotics can be administered, she is dead.
There's a word for it ---meningococcemia, caused by an invisible
microbe, obedient only to its own laws. But the word itself means
very little in isolation and the child is dead for all time, and
Dr. Grant must carry that fact with him like a heavy burden.
That burden is heavy because of a possible slip-up in diagnosis
that may or may not have been fatal; nobody can know. But it is
specifically heavy because of the presence of two authority figures
watching over Dr. Grant. One is his employer, the reserved and
scholarly Dr. Gass, who doesn't trust Grant's judgment. The other
is the girl's grandfather, a local preacher, who wants to make sure
that Dr. Grant wasn't at fault in her death.
The grandfather's concern leads him to make a request --- that Dr.
Grant treat his son, the father of the dead child, for an
unspecified ailment. Dr. Grant finds that his new patient has
frequent fevers, sees bright lights and is regularly confused.
Grant, too, is confused by the case, and can find no cause for the
sickness or its bizarre symptoms.
This makes THE LAWS OF INVISIBLE THINGS sound like a medical
mystery, with a dedicated doctor seeking out the tracks of a
dreaded new disease. But the mysteries Huyler is chasing are
primarily mysteries about how people behave, how they react to loss
and disappointment and heartache. Dr. Grant is alone, adrift after
the collapse of his marriage, largely indifferent to his craft when
not completely oppressed by it. The cold, chilly Dr. Gass is
trapped in an unvarying routine of professionalism and competence,
unwilling or unable to seem anything less than the man in the
starched white lab coat. The preacher and his son are filled with
doubt and guilt about the spiritual gulf that separates them. Just
as the invisible, unknown specter of "Grant's Disease" winds its
threads through the bodies of its victims, the threads of
loneliness and sorrow wrap themselves around the characters.
Huyler's spare, meticulous prose passes light through his
characters like an X-ray, at times illuminating the dark corners of
the medical jargon and at times revealing the telltale shadows
consistent with broken hearts. Huyler is a talented writer, with
long, lyrical descriptive passages contrasting nicely with the
shorter, choppier rhythms of dialogue. But it is the skillful
handling of the medical prose that makes THE LAWS OF INVISIBLE
THINGS memorable and establishes Huyler's niche as a literary
As one of Huyler's characters lies ill, he has Dr. Grant explain
the mechanics of his illness, putting the mysterious chemical
interactions of the body into tightly written prose and giving us
the medical terminology. "They have a name for everything," a
non-medical character explains. No, Grant thinks to himself, "they
don't; they don't have a name for everything." Human medicine and
human relationships have their invisible mysteries, and Huyler does
an outstanding job in teasing them out and displaying them on the
The Laws Of Invisible Things