The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Harper Collins Publishers
2008 (321 pages)
My rating: 5 out of 5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side.
I am writing this review about thirty minutes after I finished reading the book and I still have tears in my eyes. While I am a sucker for any narrative with a dog as the protagonist, I truly did not expect to have such an emotional reaction to a book that uses the racing car circuit as an analogy for life. I am ashamed to admit that I have been one of those people who laughed when people talked of the Indy 500 being a "sport". I have even made fun of people who attend the NASCAR races when they come to the Kansas City, Kansas track, but I must confess that this book has instilled in me a greater appreciation for the talent, skill and dedication that it takes to be a champion race car driver. To all the car racing enthusiasts out there, I owe you an apology.
This story is so much more than a "dog" story; it is so much more than an auto racing metaphor. This is a story of life itself: all the love, devotion, illness, unfairness, pettiness, and justice that humanity has to offer. The narrative is told from Enzo's point of view on the eve of his death. Yes, the reader is told in the first chapter that our canine protagonist is going to die. We know how the story will end and yet we are compelled to read further. Garth Stein has totally captured the voice and personality of this lovable pet. Enzo is an intelligent dog, intuitive and accepting of nearly everything except perhaps the fact that he is without opposable thumbs. However Enzo if very optimistic and he is certain that he will come back in another life as a human; he looks forward to the opportunity to grasp and carry things, as well as to speak rather than communicate only through gestures.
While the book is a quick read with simple language, the themes are richly detailed and the characters well-developed. While this story is told through Enzo's eyes, he is a reliable narrator as far as being a devoted, loyal follower of his master. Denny Swift is portrayed well as a dreamer who never loses sight of his career goals, while at the same time remaining true to his wife and daughter. The reader not only falls in love with Enzo, but we also admire and respect Denny's strong character. The "evil twins", that is, Denny's in-laws, are also very well defined, as I found myself truly loathing these characters fairly early on in the book. Even a few of the minor characters are brought to life through Stein's writing.
The plot was appropriately paced and the interspersing of car-racing wisdom was not only uniquely creative, but also added a depth to the storyline that enriched the understanding and entertainment of the book. As I said before, I have never been a car racing enthusiast, and I am not sure that I will become one even after reading this novel, but I fully understand the complexities of the sport after being introduced to such one-liners as:
Your car goes where your eyes go.
No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.
There is no dishonor in losing the race; there is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.
In short I would say that this is a must-read book if you are a dog lover; if you enjoy tales of romance; if you enjoy tales of the American dream; and if you believe that right should always win in the end. Even though I still have tears in my eyes, there is also a pleasant smile on face. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go downstairs and love on my labs.