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[168] The Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst

dogbabel“But reading these words now, they seem to me very sad. I see that they can also be words of kindness, words of protection. An incantation, a wish to avoid causing pain. How often since Lexy’s death have I wished for eyes that could not cry, a heart that could not grieve?” [237]

Novel that opens with a death intrigues me. The presentiment of of what might reveal from backtracking events is simply irresistible. Linguistics professor Paul Iverson’s life is turned upside town when the body of his young wife, Lexy, is found at the bottom of their backyard apple tree. Only Lorelei, their eight-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback and sole witness to the tragedy, knows what happens and is able to answer the question: Did she fall or did she jump?

Paul takes on a perilous journey to unveil the truth. The bereaved widower is determined to teach the baffled canine to talk. He contrives to coax words out of the dog by making her thirsty—for he believes the random wa sound she utters means water. Parkhurst in an interview recalls how she dreaded the premise might suspend readers’ belief. But that Paul is the narrator of the novel, that readers learn everything about Lexy through the filtered perception of Paul, whose love for Lexy is obviously less complicated than hers for him, renders the story believable. Soon after the “honeymoon” is over, in their bouts of domestic arguments, we begin to see a more accurate picture of Lexy whose more troubling aspects of her personality has become repulsive to Paul. For the first time, he thinks about leaving her because a life without her is happier.

“For a moment, only for a moment, I saw my life without her and I saw it to be better. Easier. Lighter.” [250]

After the fresh grief of Paul has petered out, given he does not have the full understanding of Lexy’s fear of losing loved ones, the whole scientific pursuit to coax words out of the canine becomes a valid and reasonable concept. His detrimental encounter with the Cerberus Society who attempts to make dogs talk by altering their anatomy through grisly amateur surgery is only the logical but extreme outcome: Paul is at wit’s end to what really happens to Lexy.

The Dogs of Babel stitches together the gap between what a man knows about his loved one and the shocking dark side of what he doesn’t know. It also draws the parallel between his unconditional love for his wife and that of man’s best friend. The novel begs the question: How well do we ever know another person? The outlandish elements like the death masks, the psychic readings, and weird dreams work surprisingly well to reinstate the idea that one can never fully comprehend another. Paul ruefully reflects on Lexy’s last day as being the most ordinary day of their marriage, betraying no sign of menace.

Paul’s struggle is to come to terms of all the parts of Lexy’s personality after her death. The dark, harrowing aspects that she conceals so well as if she is wearing a mask is the cause of his regret and grief. I found the book very beautiful, creative, but sad—the husband comes to learn fully of who the person is after the wife dies. The bereavement forays into a drapery of loving memories in their marriage.

5 Responses

  1. I hadn’t heard of this, but like you am interested in books that open with a death or significant event and then revisit the past. I’ll have to look out for it.

  2. Nothing usually draws me into a book as quickly as a good death. I might be (am) a somewhat morbid person, but I sense the making of a challenge here. It would be interesting to compile a list of literature that begins with a death and then read through them. It could be fun – or it could get old really fast. Hmmm…

  3. “The Dogs of Babel stitches together the gap between what a man knows about his loved one and the shocking dark side of what he doesn’t know. ” – I like how you put this. I really adored this book (and it was very influential in writing my book because this is the same theme I deal with in my novel.) Nice to see a current review of this one. I still meet people who’ve never read this book and wonder how that is possible.


  4. Wonderful review. I was interested in this book when it first came out but I wasn’t too keen about a perspective from a dog. But it sounds like a wonderfully written and unique book.

    The book came out in Australia under ‘Lorelei’s secret’. I think the new title is much better.

  5. Sounds like a really moving book — I’m going to grab it on Book Mooch! 🙂

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