Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Dogs of Babel

Carolyn Parkhurst explores the madness of grief in her debut novel, The Dogs of Babel. Paul has been married to Lexy for a few years when he calls home one night only to have a policeman answer the phone and tell him to come home quickly, there’s been an accident: Lexy has been found dead, having fallen from a tree in their backyard. Though ruled an accident, something about Lexy’s death feels off to Paul, and the tragedy starts him down a strange path. Lorelei, Paul and Lexy’s rhodesian ridgeback, was home the day of Lexy’s death and is the only witness to what happened. Obsessed with knowing the truth about his wife’s death, Paul, a linguist, determines that he will teach Lorelei to talk.

With the stage thus set, Parkhurst, through flashbacks, paints scenes from Paul and Lexy’s life together. Beginning with their remarkable first date, Parkhurst slowly peels back the layers of their relationship and Lexy’s complex personality, culminating with a poignant portrait of one woman’s struggles. Simultaneously, we come to understand how Paul’s grief manifests itself in such a bizarre way. Parkhurst also includes a questionable subplot expanding on the talking dog idea. I very clearly understand the decisions she made here, but this part felt a little unrealistic, especially compared with excruciatingly real emotions found elsewhere in the book.

Overall, though, the book was a success for me. Like life and Paul and Lexy’s marriage, it’s not perfect; but there is more than enough that is worthwhile here to deserve a recommendation.