Paul comes home to find his wife, Lexy, is dead. She has fallen from a 25-foot apple tree in their backyard; the only witness is their dog, Lorelei. The police rule the death an accident, but why Lexy had climbed the tree is a mystery. As far as Paul knows she had never climbed the tree before, or any other tree. Paul becomes obsessed with finding out why Lexy was up the tree and what happened in the time leading up to her death.
As a professor of linguistics at a local college, Paul has an intense interest in language. As the witness to Lexy’s accident, Paul believes that Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, holds the clues to his wife’s death. He decides to take a sabbatical and devote the time to teaching Lorelei to talk so he can unlock the mystery of Lexy’s fatal fall.
“The Dogs of Babel” is an easy read. I almost read the entire book on a short flight from Kansas City to Denver. There are some odd shifts in tenses in the story because it is alternates between Paul and Lexy’s relationship prior to and after her death and I think at times even the author got a little confused. It is an issue creative writing professors beat to death; constantly pointing out tenses problems. However, it is a “rule” I find even the most prolific authors often ignore. Parkhurst’s writing has a nice flow and I didn’t get too hung up on the ever-changing tenses.
The metaphors in this novel are not obscure and are sort of “in your face,” but I do not think it was Parkhurst intent to write a story with hidden meanings requiring deep thought or prolonged consideration. It is a simple love story ending in an inexplicable tragedy with a dog becoming essential to the healing process.
On the dust jacket the book is misrepresented as a mystery. It is actually a story about grief and the healing process. Written in the first person, grieving widower Paul recounts his life with Lexy. He narrates their happy courtship and eventually marriage, reliving each moment with the reader. We laugh as he recalls Lexy’s spontaneity, so different from his own less adventurous personality. Yet, as he fondly remembers life with his wife, the reader begins to discover the answers to Paul’s original question; eventually Paul discovers the answers he has been seeking have been right in front of him all along.
I have read many debut novels and this one is very good. The writing is clever and the story takes some unique and unexpected turns. Parkhurst style is mesmerizing, not in a Stephen King sort of way, but in a lyrical sense. We are pulled into Paul’s world through a direct and constant dialogue Paul is having with himself and in turn with the reader. The book is funny, painful and thoughtful. It is about the human condition – something we all relate too.
It is obvious Parkhurst has had close relationship of the canine kind. Being a dog person, I intensely related to the scenes involving Lorelei and her curious canine behaviors. I think many dog owners will enjoy this book. However, anyone who has loved or has experienced loss will also like “The Dogs of Babel.” I recommend this book for a straightforward, swift and intriguing summer read.
**Also appearing in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor