March 08, 1999 12:00 PM

by Chris Bohjalian

Leland Fowler needs to get a life. During the two years since his wife’s death in a car crash, the young father has devoted himself to raising their toddler daughter and to his job as a deputy state’s attorney in Vermont. The closest he has come to romance is fantasizing about women he spies at the health-food store. So it’s probably no surprise that when fate—in the form of a persistent sore throat—leads him to consult comely local homeopath Carissa Lake, he instantly decides she’s the cure for what ails him.

It might just be the worst move he has ever made. When one of Carissa’s patients falls into a coma because of what may have been irresponsible advice from the homeopath, the stricken man’s wife goes straight to Leland’s office to demand a criminal investigation.

The many fans of Bohjalian’s powerful novel Midwives (a November 1998 Oprah‘s Book Club selection) will quickly surmise the kind of ethical and legal quagmire in which Leland soon finds himself. They’ll also recognize Bohjalian’s warm yet uncloying evocation of a deeply rooted Yankee community torn between old virtues and New Age remedies, as well as his deft foreshadowing of plot developments to create suspense. Unlike Midwives, however, which builds to a wrenching courtroom climax, this book ends with a disappointing whimper. To paraphrase another prominent New Englander, this is a road that would have been better not taken. (Harmony, $24)

Bottom Line: Resonant novel of ordinary lives

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