Itís initially a difficult task to put a finger on The Dogs of Babel [Little, Brown], the debut novel by Carolyn Parkhurst. First, you start out thinking itís a murder mystery. Then, it turns into an absurd, clever farceóthat is, until somewhere in the middle when it rips your heart out and then slowly pieces it back together again.
The premise is this: Paul Iverson comes home to find his beautiful young wife, Lexy, fallen from an apple tree in the backyard and pronounced dead on the scene. Their dog, Lorelei, witnessed it all and is barking hysterically. It makes no senseóbut the cops rule out both foul-play and suicide, deem it an Ďaccident,í and leave him to his widower-hood. But then Paul notices some ďincongruitiesĒÖtheir books have been rearranged, and the steak they were to have for dinner that night had been fed to the dog. Iverson, a university linguist by profession, decides he will teach his dog to speak --and tell him what really happened.
OK, so itís far-fetched. But this author has you believing it and understandingóif not completely justifying--her protagonistís move every step of the way. Parkhurstís gift for believably narrating as a man is an achievement; her gift of bringing the reader to love and grieve for Lexy through his fictitious flashbacks is astounding. More than once I had to wipe a tear or take a breath. More than once I had to force myself to slow down and savor the prose, despite the fact I simply could not wait to find out what happened next.
Simply said, The Dogs of Babel is brilliant. Itís literary without being overdone; entertaining without being mindless crap. The Dogs of Babel is a fast read, not because itís short in length (261 pages), but because you canít put it down. Itís a novel that elegantly explores love, depression, art and madness without being maudlin, and inspires the reader to believe in love and live life with hope, minus the sappiness. Buy it.