This very inventive first-time novelist has built her story around the shock of sudden loss. When Paul Iverson's wife, Lexy, dies in a supposed accidental fall, he must cope with this unexpected tragedy in his life.
Overwhelmed at first and unable to relinquish his grief, Paul focuses on their dog, Lorelei, the only witness to Lexy's last day on earth. Convinced the animal holds the key, Paul, a professor of linguistics, impulsively takes a sabbatical, determined to teach Lorelei to speak in actual words, to tell him what she has seen. After extensive research, Paul cites some fascinating case studies of man's attempts at developing canine speech, all ineffective and inhumane. While this seems an absurd premise at first, clearly a person enveloped with grief will cling to the most absurd belief, no matter how foolish, that offers immediate relief.
Soon it is obvious that Lorelei is unwilling and unteachable, although she patiently endures her lessons. When Paul innocently encounters an underground group that advocates canine experimentation, performing surgeries without consideration for the mutilation of their specimens, he is disgusted at the extremes he has entertained in this foolish pursuit.
Paul moves on, recalling the years of their marriage and the infrequent but unnerving incidents that were indicators of the true pathology of Lexy's troubled past and teenage flirtation with suicide. Embarking on an emotional journey, Paul begins the scrupulous evaluation of Lexy's emotional landscape. Reviewing their history, he remembers Lexy's occasional unaccountable rages and the unfathomable torrents of tears that left her shattered and fearful. And this is the real crux of Paul's dilemma: was it an accident, or was Lexy desperate enough to commit suicide? With unexpected courage, Paul endures, facing a future with memories but no answers.
Author Carolyn Parkhurst moves gently through the early days of Paul's grief and his impulsive project with Lorelei. Lexy and Paul are multi-faceted and sympathetic characters; the companionable Lorelei is an endearing witness to Paul's struggle. Paul navigates this unfamiliar territory with reluctance, but his discoveries are touched with the quiet grace and forgiveness of married love, an acceptance of the human frailties inherent in life. Lexy has left a message for Paul, after all, but it cannot be found hidden among her emotional demons; rather, her endless capacity for joy and the daily expression of love are her true legacy.