Carolyn Parkhurst, |
The Dogs of Babel
(Time Warner, 2003)
The Dogs of Babel, the first novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, is chock-full of little mysteries to titillate the reader into following this author's line of thought. If the end-purpose is to enlist sympathy for dogs, and I doubt that, it succeeds. How wonderful that dogs demand so little from us!
This is the premise of the story: if a particular dog, Lorelei, could speak, could she explain to a grieving man why Lexie Iverson, his wife, was climbing a tree and how her death occurred as a result? The dog is the only witness, and, presumably, is as shocked as any of the puzzled friends in the Iverson's orbit. That this woman, Lexie, was unbalanced becomes evident as the story unwraps. That the husband, too, is odd emerges bit by bit.
There are many clues to show that Lexie had been falling apart for some time. On the surface, she seemed whimsical and fey, traits that went well with her arty facade. Her speciality was the designing and creating of exotic masks to be sold in galleries and used for elaborate parties. They were not assembly line copies but one-of-a-kind productions -- beautiful but unsettling.
As Lewis Carroll said, this gets "curiouser and curiouser." After Lexie's death, the husband, a professor of linguistics, wonders if he can teach Lorelei to talk. He is quite serious about this, so much so that he falls into strange company. It is at this point that the story descends into a dark pit. Readers will compare Babel to early Stephen King for atmosphere and a sense of foreboding.
The first-person point of view brings Lexie some sympathy (but not enough). My favorite character is the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Lexie, whether or not she can talk. Picture the strange Lexie sitting on a cloud somewhere, laughing about talking dogs. It is no more preposterous than the rest of the story.