The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
In preparing a little excursion to Raleigh, NC this past week, I sought out a little reading material to take along. My first choice was the latest by James Patterson because I am a great fan of Alex Cross and the fact that Mr. Patterson uses concise and incisive chapters that keeps me securely locked riding shotgun with Alex. My first choice did not materialize. The waiting list proved impossible. I decided to scan the shelves for an author I have never met. Sometimes such a random search produces fine results, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it did. Fine and surprising results indeed.
Carolyn Parkhurst of Washington, DC wrote and published The Dogs of Babel in 2003. I have never heard of Ms. Parkhurst and the mosaic-green book jacket did nothing to catch my eye. The title itself warranted my glimpse enough that I picked up the novel and read the synopsis on the jacket over-leafs. The premise was at the same time simple but quite interesting. In the past I have purchased several non-fiction works with names like, “How to Speak Dog” and “In Fido’s Language”, so I carried the novel over to our friendly, beloved and beautiful brunette librarian and checked it out for my little trip.
The premise of the novel is that the narrator Paul, a college linguistics professor, decides that the only way to discover what occurred on his lovely new wife’s last day, would be to teach Lorelei to talk. Lorelei was the couple’s eight-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback hound that Lexy brought with her when Paul accepted her marriage proposal. Lorelei was also the only witness when Lexy, reasons unbeknown, climbed the tall apple tree in the couple’s backyard and subsequently fell to her death. So Paul, taking a leave of absence from the university, sets out to teach a dog to talk. Interspersed between real-time experiments with flash cards and impassioned attempts at doggie annunciation, Paul recounts his erroneous first marriage and his magical introduction and courtship with Lexy. This interspersed romantic tale is what fully grabbed me by surprise, big surprise, especially since I usually go out of my way to shun the romance genre while publicly decrying its frivolousness and foolishness.
Ms. Parkhurst constructed the characterization of the slightly older Paul and the young and not as experienced Lexy with such skill and imagination that I sat spellbound, turning page after page, longing for such a romantic encounter. First dates that last an entire week are rare if not totally non-existent but the author weaves it with such compelling prose that it does not just seem plausible but highly believable. I found myself entranced, enmeshed in the grand old cliché: ‘it could happen’. The Dogs of Babel is not just a novel for the avid reader. It is a skillful piece of literature for any writers who wish to strengthen their skills at character development. And for the blossoming romance novelist, I suggest this novel should be regarded as prerequisite in the study of characterization. The very fact that Ms. Parkhurst is female and her protagonist and narrator is a male hints at how well the author can wield a pen.
Finally, and here I will be intentionally vague, there is an underlying criminal element just below the surface of the main plot that will keep the reader in such suspense that if you, dear reader, do not find yourself skipping ahead to ascertain Lorelei’s fate, are probably already dead or at least heartless. And even if you are heartless, this novel will assuredly turn your heart of stone into the flesh and blood organ that God intended it to be. This is a fast-paced, sincere, romance-inspiring read with enough familiarity into relationships that inevitably, male readers see themselves as Paul and female readers will relate to the many emotions of Lexy. Dog lovers will simply love it.
It is rare nowadays for someone to read a short review of a book and rush out to purchase it or locate it in one’s public library. For your own enjoyment, I hope this is one of those instances. If you should read The Dogs of Babel by Ms. Carolyn Parkhurst, I would appreciate you stopping back by and letting me know your thoughts. Happy reading and God bless!
© Robert C Burnham