Tag Archives: carolyn parkhurst

THE DOGS OF BABEL by Carolyn Parkhurst

[Warning: second book in a row about death and grieving. Sigh.]

It’s always interesting to pick up a Carolyn Parkhurst book, because you never know what you’re going to get. Whether it’s a fictionalized account of an Amazing Race-like reality show, a novelist re-writing her endings, or a rural compound for families of autistic kids, you’re in for a quirky but interesting ride. The Dogs of Babel, which I believe is Parkhurst’s first novel (it came out in 2004) is about Paul, a man whose wife Lexy is found mysteriously dead in their backyard after falling out of a tree. There were no witnesses other than their dog, Lorelei. With no explanation for why his wife would have been climbing in their tree, Paul, desperate for answers, decides to train his dog to talk so that he can get an answer from her.

Much of The Dogs of Babel is told through flashbacks as we learn about Paul and Lexy’s relationship. Paul is a straight arrow, while Lexy is artistic and impulsive and prone to violent outbursts and mood swings. But we grow to understand why he loved her and what a void she has left in his life. As the complexities of their relationship are slowly revealed, the answer to the question of what happened to Lexy becomes less murky.

So the talking dog part of the book sounds weird, but Paul is a linguist, so his interest in interspecies communication isn’t that strange. He grows interested – warily – in a fringe movement to get dogs to talk. The leader is in prison for maiming and torturing dogs – that part is awful – and Paul knows that the remaining men in the group are cruel and disturbed. But he’s so desperate to get Lorelei to talk that his judgment gets clouded and he interacts with them a little, but with tragic consequences.

Ultimately this is a story about grief, not unlike the last book I reviewed, Goodbye For Now by Laurie Frankel. What lengths might we go to to soothe the pain of loss? At what price? The Dogs of Babel wasn’t my favorite Carolyn Parkhurst but I still liked it and was eager to learn what happened. She’s a very good writer and I’ll probably read anything she puts out. I’ve heard her speak a few times (she’s local) and I am definitely a fan.

I am in the home stretch! The Dogs of Babel was book #49 for the year. I am closing in on my goal of 52, with 12 more days of the year to go. I’m halfway through one on audio, 1/4 through another in print, and that just leaves one more to finish by the 31st. I think I can, I think I can…



Pre-Vacation Post

I am finally going on vacation this week, which I am really looking forward to. 8 days in Italy, with hopefully enough downtime to read some books.

Here is what I am bringing with me to read.


A few other things to share:

  1. My friend Nicole Bonia of Linus’s Blanket and I have started a podcast for Readerly magazine. Here is the first episode. It’s not on iTunes yet, but I will share the link when it’s up. For now, you can listen at the Readerly site. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s coming out soon, and what you might have missed this summer. Give it a listen! We’re recording another show today.
  2. I went to a reading by Carolyn Parkhurst on Saturday at Politics and Prose, where she talked about Harmony, the book we just read for the EDIWTB online book club. Here is some of what I learned in her Q&A:
    • Parkhurst has a son on the autism spectrum. She made Tilly a girl so that there would be differences between her son and Tilly.
    • Pop culture informs her writing a lot.
    • She told Alexandra’s perspective in the second person so that the reader could be closer to her and understand what is going on in her head She wanted those chapters to feel more intimate, so that the reader would viscerally feel the chaos in her life.
    • Harmony was the most difficult book she has written and took the longest to write, in part because it was the most personal. She worried whether it was OK to be writing about her kids.
    • She is still not sure whether she got Tilly’s voice right. Her son’s mind is incredible, unlike anyone’s she has ever met. She wanted Tilly to be unique too and had to create that voice for her.
    • Scott was the hardest character to write. He says the right things and makes sense on the surface. He is not based on anyone she knows, though she spent a lot of time thinking about cults when she wrote him.
    • She has ideas for her next book but is not writing anything right now.
  3. I also enjoyed this Wall Street Journal post about Parkhurst’s son reading Harmony.

I’ll be offline for the next two weeks or so but hope to have a few reviews to post when I get back! Happy August, everyone.

Return of the Online Book Club!

I am excited to announce that the EDIWTB Online Book Club is back!

Here’s how the online book club works. I choose a book, and EDIWTB readers who are interested in participating sign up by sending me their name, email address and home address. Participants receive a copy of the book in the mail, courtesy of the publisher. About a month later, on a pre-selected date, I post a review of the book here, and then the book club discussion takes in the comments section of the blog.

It’s a lot of fun, and all you have to do is be one of the first 15 to sign up.

The book is Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst, and we’ll be discussing it on August 2, 2016. I picked Harmony because I really enjoyed two of Parkhurst’s prior novels – Lost and Found and The Nobodies Album. Her books are so different – from each other and from most novels that I read. Here’s what Harmony is about:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly “normal” family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a “family camp” in New Hampshire–a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally–a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly–whose condition is deemed undiagnosable–is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book’s Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable.

If you’d like to participate in the book club, send me an email at gayle@everydayiwritethebookblog.com with the following:


email address

home address

I will let you know if you’re one of the first 15 to sign up. Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing the books!


Q&A with Carolyn Parkhurst, author of THE NOBODIES ALBUM

On Sunday,I heard Carolyn Parkhurst read from her book The Nobodies Album, which I also reviewed that day. Before she started her reading, she said that the book has a "challenging, complicated structure," and that she often wondered what she had gotten herself into. Parkhurst also answered a few questions after the reading. Here is the Q&A:

Q. How much of the novels-within-the-novels did you actually write?

A: I only wrote as much as you see in the book, but I needed the basic plot and what was happening in the book. I had to explain it all to the reader so that they would understand. But I didn't write any more than I had to.

Q: What do you think about authors changing the endings of their books?

A: I had once read about Joyce Carol Oates revising a thirty year-old story, and I wondered, was she allowed to do that? But ultimately, I don't really care what anybody does. Personally, I like finishing and moving on when I am done. It scares me to think that I could tinker with a book forever. I find it a weird choice to revisit an ending.

Q: Would you ever write a book from one of these seven pieces of novels?

A: Probably not, even though it would make my mother happy. I tried not to make them like short stories, but I feel like I've already said what I need to say about those characters. Maybe the themes and subject matter will come up again, though.

The Nobodies Album also got a great review in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday – check it out.

THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst

Parkhurst I just finished The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst – just in time for her reading this afternoon at Politics & Prose here in DC. This is the second Parkhurst book I've read – the first was Lost and Found, which I reviewed shortly after launching this blog in 2006. I definitely recommend The Nobodies Album, which I had a hard time putting down over the last few days.

The Nobodies Album is a complicated book. Its narrator – Olivia Frost – is a famous novelist whose books are usually rather disturbing, dealing often with the death of a child or a parent, usually under tragic circumstances (drowning, suicide, etc.) Olivia herself lost both her husband and daughter in a tragic accident, leaving her with a young son, Milo. When The Nobodies Album opens, Olivia is about to drop off with her editor the manuscript for her latest work, in which she re-writes the last chapter of all of her previous books. At that same time, Milo – who is now in his late 20s, a famous rock star, and estranged from his mother – is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. The rest of the book is essentially three things: a murder mystery, an exploration of Octavia and Milo's relationship, and a discourse on the nature of fiction writing.

I really liked this book. There is a lot going on, and some of the interspersed chapter rewrites from Octavia's former novels, which are sprinkled throughout the book, are a bit jarring as they break up the flow of the murder plot. But everything in here makes sense. The prior novels reveal a lot about Octavia and how she got to where she is, as do her re-writes, which are each a part of her attempt to make peace with Milo. There are so many themes in this book – regret, forgiveness, the creative process, the nature of parenthood – it's very rich.

I especially enjoyed the passages about writing. Here's one I liked:

There's an analogy I came up with once for an interviewer who asked me how much of my material was autobiographical. I said that the life experience of a fiction writer is like butter in cookie dough: it's a crucial part of flavor and texture – you certainly couldn't leave it out – but if you've done it right, it can't be discerned as a separate element. There shouldn't be a place that anyone can point to and say, There – she's talking about her miscarriage.

This is a fascinating book, in addition to being beautifully paced, with just enough tension to propel the reader forward with great anticipation. I don't want to give away much more than that (there are a lot of spoilers). I really recommend The Nobodies Album, and I can't wait to hear what Parkhurst has to say this afternoon! I will report back.

THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst

One of the first books I read after I started this blog in 2006 was Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst. It was a fictionalized account of a TV competition show based on "The Amazing Race". Here was my review. While I found a few faults with the book, I did enjoy it. (It's so funny to read old reviews – I was such a newbie blogger back then!)

Parkhurst Parkhurst has a new book coming out in June, and I just got a review copy in the mail, thanks to Doubleday. (Hi FTC!). It's called The Nobodies Album, and here is the blurb from the marketing department at Doubleday: "Carolyn's novel is a terrific
story about a successful writer, Octavia Frost, who learns that her son is
accused of his girlfriend's murder via (of all things) the news feed in Times
Square.  Even though they have been estranged, she travels to California to be
with him.  As they try to patch up their relationship, surprising facts about
the murder emerge."

I like the sound of this book, and I like the author. So this is going in the TBR pile! I will let you know how I like it!

LOST AND FOUND by Carolyn Parkhurst

Back in August, I blogged about Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. I just finished it. I liked it, didn’t love it. 

I am a big fan of "The Amazing Race," so I enjoyed all the background details about filming an around-the-world reality TV show.  I also liked the descriptions of the places the contestants visited and the tasks they had to complete. The best part of the book, though, is Parkhurt’s exploration of the different characters, what motivated them to come on the show, and their relationships with their partners.  The narration rotates among the characters, but the plot moves ahead steadily, thankfully with little repetition of detail or plot points.

My complaints are: 1) some characters were less well-drawn than others, which ultimately made them less compelling; 2) the gay theme (a few characters are gay – some in, some out, some in denial) is overdone – it tended to pervade the whole book; and 3) the contestants were way too cynical and unhappy for this naive TV viewer.  I watch "The Amazing Race" to escape from my own reality for an hour a week; I like to believe that the players are having fun and savoring the incredibly unique experience they’re having, regardless of whether they’re winning.  I realize that Parkhurst is satirizing the genre; I guess I didn’t need to have the genre satirized.

All of that said, Lost and Found is well-written, engaging, and entertaining. I did enjoy it and would recommend it.