Monday, May 25, 2015
The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
321 pages Fiction
"There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose."
"We are afforded our physical existence so we can learn about ourselves."
Named after a famous race car driver, Enzo is the philosopher and dog narrator in The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Denny the father in the novel is a race car driver, the husband of Eve and the father of Zoe. Enzo was Denny's dog before Eve entered his life, and Enzo is more than a little pissed that Eve took some of Denny's affection, but after Zoe appears, Enzo resolves his issues and becomes the family protector.
Enzo loves television, car racing, and old movies. He has a list of favorite actors and favorite movies. He is terribly frustrated that he can't talk, but he is learning all he can so that in his next life, he can come back as a human. To his credit, however, early on, he realizes that dogs are much smarter and more intuitive than humans—dogs just can't talk, so they have to figure out clever ways to communicate with the adults in their lives.
The first part of the book is quite funny; Enzo has an acerbic sense of humor. and his observations are truly right on point. He understands a great deal about car racing, and he applies those insights to life as well as racing. This is a very vulnerable family, and as tragedy befalls them, Enzo becomes increasingly concerned about what he can do to help them. He remains faithful and helpful until things finally settle down, and he can die knowing that he has done his best for the family.
There are many aspects of the book that dog owners will relate to because it is very affirming of the place of dogs in the family. Frankly, however, I felt manipulated by a dog that is too understanding and empathetic and is too forgiving of his master. As much as I liked the character of Denny, I didn't like how he handled the family tragedy. Although the narrator kept telling us how assertive Denny was, he looked too easily manipulated for me.
I was babysitting my grand dog Trixie while I was finishing up The Art of Racing in the Rain As I reached the satisfying conclusion, tears were rolling down my face. Trixie, who had been sitting on the couch with me, climbed into my lap and licked my hand. I looked at her searchingly; did she understand me as well as Enzo, the dog, understood his family? Trixie is an old dog, but frankly, I don't think that she quite gets it!
(Oh, and did I mention that for Memorial Day weekend, the other grandparents got the children, and I got the dog?}
This is an older book, and many of my readers will have read it. If you haven't, it is worth an afternoon, particularly if you are a dog lover. It will be interesting to see how the discussion goes at book club this month.
The review in the Houston Chronicle.