News & Politics

The Dogs of Babel

“A tale of deep and recognizable sadness.”

 When Paul Iverson’s wife, Lexy, falls to her death while climbing an apple tree, the only witness is their dog, Lorelei. Paul, a linguistics professor, devises an outlandish research project to discover the truth behind the accident—teaching his dog to talk.

 To most readers—unclouded by grief yet privy to Paul’s memories—Lexy’s death will seem an obvious suicide. The fascination lies in watching Paul construct his own Tower of Babel in an attempt “to know things no human being could tell him.”

 The book plunges deep into Paul’s mind, so his activities—which include creating a doggie keyboard and attending a meeting of a cult that performs abusive dog experiments—seem understandable. After all, he says, “dogs are witnesses. . . . If they could tell us everything they have seen, all of the gaps of our lives would stitch themselves together.”

 Parkhurst, who lives in DC, tells a tale of deep and recognizable sadness. She captures the strangeness of death on an ordinary afternoon and the yearning and fragility of the one left behind. Paul asks: “If the dead wandered among us, their spirits still present on this earth, what need would we have for grief? Scary as it is, it’s what we hope for.” As Paul discovers, hope doesn’t raise the dead—a fact that’s more than enough to break a person’s heart.

Carolyn Parkhurst

Little, Brown