I was looking through my journals and found this I’d written about a novel I’d read eight years ago, The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst, a remarkably well-written book about a man whose wife has just been killed by falling from a high apple tree, the only witness to the tragedy being their dog Lorelei. So the man embarks on a project in which he will teach his dog how to talk, to let him know what he needs to know about his wife’s death.
But as to the writing, here are some quotes that just leaped out at me for their beauty and truth: “I was thirty-nine when I met Lexy. Before that, I was married for many years to a woman whose voice filled our house like a thick mortar, sealing every crack and corner. Maura, this first wife of mine, spoke so much while saying so little that I sometimes felt as if I were drowning in the heavy paste of her words.”
“All this to say: I am forty-three years old. I may yet live another forty. What do I do with those years? How do I fill them without Lexy? When I come to tell the story of my life, there will be a line, creased and blurred and soft with age, where she stops. If I win the lottery, if I father a child, if I lose the use of my legs, it will be after she has finished knowing me. ‘When I get to Heaven,’ my grandmother used to say, widowed at thirty-nine, ‘your grandfather won't even recognize me.’ ”
“How can it be, I wondered, that we can be lying in bed next to a person we love wholly and helplessly, a person we love more than our own breath, and still ache to think of the one who caused us pain all those years ago? It's the betrayal of this second heart of ours, its flesh tied off like a fingertip twined tightly round with a single hair, blue-tinged from lack of blood. The shameful squeeze of it.”
“I sing of a woman with ink on her hands and pictures hidden beneath her hair. I sing of a dog with skin like velvet pushed the wrong way.I sing of the shape a fallen body makes in the dirt beneath a tree, and I sing of an ordinary man who is wanted to know things no human being could tell him. This is the true beginning.”
Through a series of flashbacks we learn more about the woman he married, this Lexy who made fabulous papier-mache masks in her basement. I can feel the depth of the man’s despair, trying to piece out the puzzle of his wife’s odd fall from the apple tree. I can empathize with his feeling for his dear sweet Lorelei, the dog who had to have his larynx removed in order to tell his master exactly what had happened to his wife.
What an unusual story and one that I’d recommend highly, now that I’ve remembered what it was like from eight years ago.