Sentimental favorites certainly have their place on any shelf. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein certainly appeals to dog lovers and, by way of thematic association, to fans of racecar driving as well. However, the tone of the book has something to offer everyone since all readers can relate to the struggle of learning life’s lessons. Those lessons are filtered through Enzo’s point of view, the dog who narrates the story.
Enzo would like nothing more than to be human and he’s learned a lot from watching television. In particular, he watches racing videos with his master Denny. Enzo manages to pull a lot of zen-like messages from those videos, which in turn inform the observations that Enzo makes throughout the story:
- “That which is around me does not affect my mood; my mood effects that which is around me.”
- “The car goes where the eyes go.”
- “People and their rituals. They cling to things so hard sometimes.”
- “That which we manifest is before us.”
- “There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”
Enzo’s dog philosophy can wear a bit thin at times, but the heart of the story is in the right place. Dog’s live in the moment; most people do not. Narratively it makes sense that he dog offers such simple and sage advice. Enzo is also far from the perfect narrator, which readers may feel may or may not add to the literary merits of the story. The dog gets left at home while Denny is left to deal with a wife fighting cancer and grandparents that are trying to gain custody of his daughter. Still, that is what we all do. We try to make sense of a situation based on the information available to us. Enzo is no different in that regard.
I can readily understand and even agree with readers who come down negatively on The Art of Racing in the Rain. Stein’s dog-as-narrator device does not try to offer a sense of realism. Rather, Enzo’s worldview is clearly informed the author’s mindset. Yet, that is why I think I find the book so memorable. Anyone who has shared a close bond with a dog will slip seamlessly inside the pages of this book and let the highly readable story carry you away. The story plays on all of those emotions and then some.
Needless to say, I gave my dog a big hug the first time I read this book. I recently listened to the audio version and it still surprised me how The Art of Racing in the Rain channels such an emotional response. Some critics would say that Stein is purposely manipulating the reader’s emotions. If that is the case, so be it. To have loved and said goodbye to a great dog is an honor we should all be lucky enough to have.
Dear Speckles: To be around you has brought me insurmountable joy and comfort. I will miss you so much.
You can connect with Garth Stein on his website.
Are you a fan of books about animals? What about stories with animals as narrators?
For more insight, read my Book Review Criteria. Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.