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22 August 2010 @ 05:19 pm
Dogs of Babel Discussion Questions  
Hey all!

I realize that we're about to switch to a new community, but I figure I can re-post these questions there if necessary. I found some great discussion questions online about this book which might facilitate some interesting conversation.
1. Paul is a college professor -a man of reason-yet he is determined he can teach his dog Lorelei to talk. What accounts for his strange conviction? Has grief driven him mad, or do his actions have a rational explanation?

2. Paul and Lexy seem to have extremely different personalities. What characteristics in Paul might have drawn Lexy to him? What, for Paul, were the irresistible elements of Lexy's character? Were there early indications that she had a darker side?

3. What do you make of Paul and Lexy's whirlwind romance and courtship? Do they rush into the relationship too quickly, or does the intensity of their feelings for each other indicate a powerful bond?

4. What kind of clues does Paul find to indicate that Lexy's death had more to it than it seemed? Do you think Lexy deliberately left him a puzzle to piece together?

5. How does making death masks affect Lexy? Despite Paul's fears that it is too morbid a pursuit for her, why does she tell Paul she wants to continue?

6. Lexy creates a death mask for a young girl named Jennifer, who committed suicide. Why do Jennifer's parents reject the first mask Lexy makes? What kind of significance does the mask take on for Lexy?

7. Paul's obsession with the Cerberus Society leads him and Lorelei into a dangerous situation. Why is he so fascinated with this strange group? Is he responsible for Lorelei's abduction?

8. During Paul and Lexy's vacation in New Orleans, Lexy is convinced that she has met the ghost of Blue Marie. Why is this meeting so important to her? What happens when she is led to believe that the woman was not, after all, Blue Marie?

9. Lexy faithfully records her dreams in a dream journal. After her death, Paul hunts through this book searching desperately for answers. What role do dreams play in the book? Do you think they offer a window into a person's psyche? How do Paul's dreams about Lexy reflect how his own grieving process progresses?

10. What is the significance of the verses from Tam Lin that Lexy teaches Paul on pp. 60-1? How does their meaning transform throughout the novel?
psychedeliceyes on August 23rd, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
Part One
Oh these are great questions.

1. I think rationality can be internalized and that grief can skew our perspective of what is realistic and what is not. Given that Paul is influenced the fact (well, the belief) that there is already one dog capable of speech (Dog J) I don’t think it’s such a spectacular leap in logic to believe that he can teach Lorelei to talk.

2. To me, Lexy seems like a more realistic version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s quirky, kind of out there, whimsical. I think Lexy might have been attracted to quite the opposite in Paul: he was more grounded in reality. Going beyond that, we definitely know that Lexy had a darker side (for the question of when it first surfaced, I would pinpoint the Small World ride at Disney World. Righteous anger, Lexy.) and I think she might have seen some of that in Paul. I don’t have my copy beside me so I can’t reference, but I’m pretty sure that Lexy says Paul seemed sad at their first meeting at the yard sale. Lexy deals with her own bouts of anger and depression throughout the novel (personally, I think she might have had untreated bipolar disorder) but here’s Paul, sadness evident on him, and he manages to stay relatively calm whereas she hurtles more or less off the deep end. I think this might have initially attracted her to him.

3. Typically, I find stories about couples bland but The Dogs of Babel was different. Lexy’s and Paul’s relationship was well-developed, wrought with intrigue, and whimsical (especially the square eggs and their first date). I loved how they went from the beginning of the adorable whirlwind romance and then layers of their relationship slowly surfaced. The sadness wasn’t unloaded all at once and the romance wasn’t trite and overdone. I liked that.

4. Based everything I’ve ever read, people act strangely before suicide. Just the evidence of her activities before falling out of the tree—the steak, the books—would be enough to warn anyone that some is just not right, I think. I don’t think it was deliberate to be honest. The steak was clearly explained by the end of the book and I think she rearranged the books on a whim. Lexy didn’t strike me as the kind of girl to go out without leaving some sort of cryptic message or mark—whether anyone would be able to determine it wouldn’t be of much importance. It meant something to her and that’s what mattered.

5. I think Lexy found the death masks more hopeful than morbid or depressing. She felt like she was able to do something for people who were grieving and this made her feel good. I’m pretty sure she says as much somewhere in the book.

6. I believe the parents saw too much truth in the first mask. They felt like they didn’t know their daughter and they didn’t want to be reminded that they couldn’t see that Jennifer was so depressed. They wanted a mask that would let them cling to the notion that their daughter was happy in some way, her suicide and their failure to see her sadness notwithstanding.
psychedeliceyes on August 23rd, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
Part Two
7. Obviously Paul is willing to resort to desperate measures to find out the circumstances of Lexy’s death. I don’t think he’s plunged completely off the deep end, though. He still recognizes that what these people are doing is wrong, that they are being abusive to their dogs, and that he doesn’t want these men to have their hands on Lorelei, demonstrated by the fact that he takes her home. I think this is what’s especially important to the situation. He takes her home. Paul was concerned for Lorelei’s safety so, yes, he did lead her into a dangerous situation but he got her out as soon he realized the depth of it. No, he wasn’t responsible for her kidnapping.

8. Her desire to see Blue Mary could be for more than one reason in my opinion. Speaking from my own perspective, I would think that it’s because she wants to know of a life after death or maybe she wants to believe in the supernatural or that there are things that can’t be rationally explained by humans. I also think that Blue Mary represented love after death for her. She wanted to believe that the love between herself and Paul would live on despite the eventuality of death.

9. I kind of like to think that this book was subverting the notion that dreams in books have to be ~*symbolic*~. Of course, Lexy’s dreams are relevant to her life in the same way that dreams are relevant in reality. But they do not foreshadow and they do not give answers to Paul’s questions (which I would consider an unfortunate plot device, so I’m quite happy that Parkhurst avoided this old trope). In the end, Lexy’s dreams are simply that: dreams.

10. I would probably expound on this more if I had the book right next to me. The one thing that struck me the most about the story was the fact the heroine was pregnant. In the middle of the book, when Paul tells Lexy that she’s Tam Lin, I realized she must be pregnant. I want to discuss significance but I can’t make myself remember the specifics of it.
tap_apareciumtap_aparecium on August 23rd, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
*Covers Eyes*

I really need to get started on this one! Unfortunately it might just have to wait for me because Mockingjay comes out tomorrow and I cannot wait. Maybe I'll just double it up with next month's book whenever we get to the new community.
The Auburn Haired Magicianvalca85 on August 23rd, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
These are great!

2. For Lexy, i think Paul's stability, his grounding was a huge attraction. She needed someone to hold her down so she wouldn't go flying off. Of course, that's exactly what she did end up doing...
For Paul, Lexy was like an exotic creature. Someone impulsve, artistic, completely different from his analytical and scientific way.

3. I'm not sure if rushing into the relationship was really a problem. They obviously loved each other from the very beginning, and for all their differences, they "got" each other for the most part.

4. I do think that Lexy left him a puzzle to solve. I'm not quite sure why, though. I loved the way Paul picked up on the whole cooking a steak for Lorelei thing.

5. I think the death masks are what propelled her to finally take her life. Of course, the baby was the last straw, but the masks really started that stream of thought in her head. I can almost see it slowly taking shape, growing like a seed in her brain.

kanzankanzan on August 27th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
1. I definitely think that because Paul is dedicated to all things relating to speech, that it does intrigue him from a science aspect to see if it's possible, and he's more reluctant to brush the idea away because of his grieving, or his need to understand why Lexy died. Pretty much what psychedeliceyes said!

2. Paul is a romantic, and is balanced- not at all extreme or erratic. I believe that's likely part of why Lexy chose him, as well as wanting someone to feel would take care of her or make her feel safe- the age difference could also make this more apparent. For Paul, Lexy is outlandish, creative, and brings colour to his world. He likes her because she pushes his boundaries and makes him see the beauty in more than he might otherwise. Lexy's dark side came through with the Disneyland thing, indeed, as well as her need for control in terms of the whole "we can't eat dinner, we can only eat appetizers), etc. Lexy probably likes that he is solid where she isn't.

3. I don't know if it's so much about time, or if I feel that Lexy should have communicated more with Paul about her concerns when he was asking her to marry him. As well as her concerns with having children. Instead she shuts down the conversations, or is vague, and he idealizes her and figures there's nothing about her that he wouldn't like, etc. Like others have suggested- she doesn't seem to recognize her own mental illness which causes problems for those trying to live with her while she experiences it, without any guidelines for treatment or help, etc.

4. The steak was a big indicator that things were weird, and the bookshelves. Lexy absolutely left him a puzzle she intended for him to work out, knowing that he likes to solve problems. She tried to pretend that it wasn't pre-meditated, and that "suicide is just a moment", but for someone who decided to kill herself on a whim, she sure did a lot of planning.

5. The death masks allow her a reason to immerse herself in the world of the dead- to become accustomed to the feel of cold flesh, and to tell stories about the lives of the people, as she feels she can relate to the people who have died because she plans to do it herself someday. She creates masks- especially for herself- the artsy fun-loving Lexy is a mask over the dark underside where she relishes her self-loathing. Creating the masks makes her feel like she's doing something positive for the people who've died, but really, as we learn with Jennifer's parents- it's all for the people left behind. She's obsessed with the idea that she's connecting with the dead on some level like they are still there- but they're not, we see that with the whole Blue Marie situation. She's romanticizing death.

6. The death mask for Jennifer basically gave the message that the parents didn't know the real Jennifer at all, which is something too heartbreaking for them to be able to accept. She then takes the mask to represent herself, and wears it to show that Paul doesn't actually know the real Lexy at all, because she refuses to let him into the darker realm.

7. He's obsessed with understanding how to access answers to the pain and loss he's experiencing. It absolutely clouds his judgment and it does end up hurting Lorelei, ultimately. I was alarmed right away when I read that he put her in the backyard, and not the house.

8. Lexy's meeting Blue Marie was so important to her because she wanted to believe in a spirit beyond this life, and that there's more than just nothing after death. When she learns that there wasn't a ghost, she shuts down and doesn't want to think about it. She can't accept that suicide wouldn't be so romantic if there's nothing after life.

Just my opinion... may be way off. I'm not a huge Lexy fan if it wasn't obvious!

Edited at 2010-08-27 10:04 pm (UTC)