The Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst. Little Brown Company, New York. 2013.
In her debut novel, Carolyn Parkhurst blends love, grief and mystery with the devotion and companionship of a good dog. When college professor Paul Iverson arrives home from work one day, he is confronted with horrible news: His wife Lexy has fallen to her death from the apple tree in their back yard. While the police quickly rule it an accident, Paul has his doubts when he begins to notice “clues” around the house – books rearranged on shelfs; a frying pan used that day to cook a choice steak. Without any witnesses to the accident, his grief drives him to investigate the incident further with the help of his dog Lorelei. She is the only witness to Lexy’s fall, and if she could only talk, he would have the knowledge he seeks.
A linguist by training, Paul takes a leave of absence from his teaching and embarks on a series of grief-fueled experiments to teach Lorelei to talk, an endeavor as confounding as the biblical tower referenced in the book’s title. Locking himself away from friends and colleagues, his project draws him into memories of his meeting, courtship and marriage to the creative free-spirit that was Lexy. Yet for every memory of her joie de vivre approach to life are equal measures of her rage and despair.
Parkhurst heightens the story’s mystery with references to the afterlife – from a ghost Lexy is convinced she sees in a New Orleans lobby during Mardi Gras, to the death masks she creates for grieving families. Even Lorelei’s name has meaning as it refers to a powerful river-spirit who bewitches men to their deaths.
In the end, Paul must decide whether the woman he loved did indeed slip from a high branch on a beautiful sunny day or intentionally plunge to her death in front of the one creature she loved even more than Paul – her dog. Parkhurst’s powerful and haunting story rewards the reader with a conclusion that offers peace and comfort in a fur lining.
Parkhurst sets her story in Virginia so it goes well with the Stinson Vineyards Monticello Rosé. As described on the bottle, the wine is “a crisp and refreshing Southern France style rosé. Fresh and fruity with a hint of smoke on the finish,” just like Lexy. It pairs well year round with seafood, poultry and light Mediterranean fare. (Suggested retail price – $17)