The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
Published June 2004 by Little, Brown and Company
I read this book as part of The Literate Housewife's Dog Days of Summer.
The book opens with the death of Lexy Iverson. She's fallen from a tree in her backyard while her husband, Paul, is at work, with only their dog, Lorelei, as a witness. Paul is devastated but can't help but wonder if the police pronouncement that the death was an accident is correct. Did Lexy commit suicide? Paul notices a few things in the next couple of days to make him believe that maybe she did. Only Lorelei knows and she's not talking. But Paul, who happens to be a professor of linguistics, wonders if maybe she can't be taught to talk so that he can get some answers. He's heard some stories previously that leads him to believe it might be possible so he takes a sabbatical and begins trying to teach Lorelei to speak. At the same time, Paul looks back on his relationship with Lexy.
Two pages in, this book had already grabbed my attention. Then I got to the talking dog business. And I began to wonder exactly what it was that originally convinced me to pick this book up some months ago. "Is this supposed to be a black comedy?" I wondered. Nope, it's completely serious and more than once I almost put the book down. But the book alternates chapters between the look back at Paul and Lexy's relationship and the teaching-dog-to-talk chapters. And I was enjoying the relationship chapters so I stuck it out. Then Paul became involved with some "Very Bad People" who do surgery on dogs to try to make them talk. Yes, you read that right; there is a whole organization of people doing this. And it did get a little tense during some of those parts. But it was still strange. As was Paul's fascination with a television psychic. And the part where Lexy was making masks for the families of dead people. Yep, the more I write about it, the more bizarre this book sounds.
Yet, I can't say that I didn't like it. I did find the relationship between Paul and Lexy interesting. I understood a love so deep that Paul would do anything to try to find some answers. And Parkhurst deals with Lexy's mental illness beautifully. But I can't think of a single person to whom I would recommend this book. Seriously, how would I sell it? "Hey, you wanna read a book about teaching dogs to talk?"