By Garth Stein
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.
Oh my, what a sad, but engaging book. This one was recommended to me a few years back, and (I think I’m sounding like a broken record on this) languished on my shelf since then. When it came time to pick another book to read for book club, I suggested this one.
The very description of The Art of Racing in the Rain tells you you’re for a sad time. Narrated by a dog on the eve of his death? Downer.
Just when you think there aren’t any good ideas left, someone decides to write a book from the perspective of a dang dog. And pulls it off! Incredibly well! Masterfully!
One of the reasons this works so well is because Enzo isn’t just an ordinary dog. He’s brilliant! And how did he get that way? By watching endless hours of tv. Ok, now how many of us have ever wondered if our cat or dog is watching tv with us? If they came to sit on the couch because they’re actually interested in the show and not just looking for cuddles?
Overall this was a beautiful and poignant novel and well-worth reading, despite all the feeling.
Ok, so obviously Garth Stein subscribes to the art of “crush your characters into the ground and let them try to stand” as a plot form. Geez. Denny’s beloved wife dies of a brain tumor and the very next day, he finds out that her parents are seeking primary custody of their granddaughter. Becuase, you know, that’s not enough, so Stein decides to have Denny accused of raping a teenage girl, meaning his chances of keeping his daughter have just gone up in smoke. Throw in a dash of money problems and well, let’s just see how Denny does with all that.
Luckily, Denny has loyal and amazing Enzo to get him through all this. And Stein has been telling us all along that Denny is a survivor. That his skill as a race car driving comes back to his ability to “Race in the Rain”: to focus on the win despite the terrible conditions and not to panic, but to see the course through.
I only have one complaint about this book and that’s the very last chapter.
Enzo believes in reincarnation and all through the book, he maintains that he’ll be reborn as a human. And so at the end of the book, as promised, we get this beautiful and moving scene of Enzo’s death. Wonderful. So then Stein follows that up with a look forward into Denny and Zoey’s future, with the suggestion that Enzo has be reincarnated as a young boy.
I felt this whole section, while nice and hopeful, was horribly contrived. As if someone said to the author, “You know, Garth, no one is going to read this book if you end it with the dog dying. Put a happy face on it.”
Overall a really wonderful book!