The Laws of Invisible Things by Frank Huyler is a puzzling book where things happen but the story never coheres. Protagonist Michael Grant is a 35-year-old infectious disease specialist who recently moved to a small city in North Carolina to join Dr. Ronald Gass in practice. Divorced and drifting in his personal life, Michael finds the routine of seeing his patients less than fulfilling. As the book opens, he has just made an unfortunate but understandable medical mistake which may have caused in the death of a child and raises the threat of a malpractice suit, putting his place in the joint practice in jeopardy. When the childís grandfather, Reverend Williams, asks Michael to see his son, Michael agrees to do so pro bono. Jonas Williams has strange symptoms but dies before Michael can investigate fully. The medical mystery deepens and Michaelís world begins to fall apart. Gassís daughter Nora had come to help her father with keeping the books for the practice, and she and Michael face the bookís crises together.
This narrative is suffused with depressionĖMichaelís, which at least two characters point out to him, to be sure. But Gassí demeanor is also one of emotional pallor, and his daughter despises him for his remoteness. Michael sees he himself is also headed in that direction, but seems powerless to change it. The life-changing events of the book should make a difference in him, but afterward he seems as baffled about his life as he was before. Frank Huyler, an emergency physician, must not think much of being a doctor, because his doctors are uninteresting, their work, boring. While this take on the subject is unexpected in our medicine-revering culture, it is not revealing.
Frank Huyler does write well. The medical emergency scenes are vivid, and the book seems poised to take off at times. For instance, when Michaelís childhood relationship with his father is recounted, reader involvement grows, but Huyler moves on and the energy quickly fades again. He also lets the momentum created by the appearance of a strange disease dissipate. Michaelís relationship with Nora is welcome and feels right, but it too, stalls, and the book ends with both Michael and Nora in limbo. There is not enough dialog or movement forward for any of the characters to really take hold, because much of the books is taken up with Michaelís interior observations and musings, many of which do not advance the story. The Reverend is one of the most fully drawn and interesting characters, but he and his family are really just a device for Michaelís halting, unfinished journey. At one point, Michael recounts how as a young man he was ďkeen, full of knowledge, full of faith in the laws of invisible things.Ē He has obviously lost this faith, but what he had faith in is really not clear.
Overall, The Laws of Invisible Things is unsatisfying and feels like a prelude to Michael Grantís real journey. Perhaps Frank Huyler will pick up the story again and let the reader know how it really comes out.