Sunday, November 9, 2008

A (Short) Review of The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst

Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel, knows her way with words and knows her way with emotions. But even more importantly, she's able to use her words to explore emotions in all their ugliness, beauty, and ultimately, their humanity.

The Dogs of Babel is a fascinatingly strange book. The hook of the story can be a bit misleading: a recently widowed man sets out to teach his dog to speak, so she can explain to him how his wife died. Picking it up, I thought I'd be reading more about a man's scientific adventure and an exploration into the nature of language and communication.

While The Dogs of Babel is about that, it's really about something more: how each one of us grieves in our own stupid, humorous, and touching ways when dealing with something terrible.

Parkhurst does a great job at balancing the seemingly disparate elements of her story. It is part mystery, part memoir/love story, part dog tale, and even part suspense thriller. Sounds like a strange brew, and I'll admit it is, but the narrative works, and the oddity of the mixture makes the story all the more unique.

The Dogs of Babel is an easy read because of Parkhurst's command of language; but it is also a very difficult read, because Parkhurst's prose takes us to dark and sad places. And though it would have been easy, not once does her story become a sentimental journey. It's an unflincing portrait of a grieving man, deceptively simple in its execution, profound in its message.

If you're tired of reading the same old thing, I'd highly recommend picking up this book.

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