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.
I have thought many times about writing a story from the perspective of my fur children. Maybe I will… 🙂
Cheryl, my husband and I continually dialogue up for our pets 😉
I love this book and your review. Not that I’m dog biased or anything, lol. It’s on my shelf and I read it over and over. Paulette
Paulette, this is definitely my go-to book to give as a gift. It also won over a fairly reluctant reader I encountered when I was in the classroom. There’s just something about a good dog story, isn’t there?
I know I would find this book interesting by the fact that it’s form a dogs point of view (so to speak). Anytime a person bonds with an animal they learn a very special language of love with that animal that only they, together, can share. 🙂
Susan, I do hope you will read this one. It’s definitely a tear-jerker, but so worth the read!
Ah… lump in throat time. I lost my best friend about five years ago now but I still miss him. He was already half human. I hope he comes back on two legs and comes to say hello.
Meeka, I totally get that half-human aspect when it comes to dogs. Isn’t it so telling how much we miss them when they’re finally gone from our lives? Stein’s book really captures all of that and more.
I would have to wonder about any critic complaining about an author purposely manipulating emotion. Isn’t that the goal of story telling?
Jon, you certainly have a point, but I do think there is a fine line where literature can become too sentimental. Stein’s book potentially does go a bit overboard, but as I am a fellow dog lover, I’d say he definitely succeeded in conveying the complex gamut of emotions that exist between dogs and humans.
I’ve never owned a dog but a friend owns a yellow Lab (which I believe is the breed on the cover) who is the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet. The thing about dogs is that they give you unconditional love. They are not judgmental. They are just there for you.
Jeannette, dogs certainly are loyal, though to varying degrees. Like people, they too are shaped by so many factors. In Stein’s book, Enzo really gets into observing the family dynamic.
What a unique idea! I don’t understand why someone would be critical of an author’s creativity. If they actually took the words literally, then what does that say about the critics. Not saying what the author has to say, doesn’t ring true, but it’s food for thought. Thanks for the review.
Denise, once I read Stein’s book I knew I would never be able to pull off a dog’s point of view as well as he has, but attempting to do so is still an appealing idea to me as a writer.
Thanks for the review, I have this book on my list to read. I only had one dog growing up and it was devastating to our whole family when he got sick and we had to put him to sleep. We never got another dog after that. I read the link in your post about your dog. It’s SO heartbreaking losing a pet.
Karen, thanks for letting you know you clicked through and read the post about Speckles. I feel like a parent who always thinks their child is “special” but she really was a extraordinary dog, a once-in-a-lifetime dog.
I’m not a big dog fan, but I do love a well-written book. If you say Enzo works well as a narrator, I would probably enjoy his tale.
Leora, even more so than successfully pulling off a dog narrator, Stein captures the quality and emotions of love, loyalty, and longing so perfectly. I tear-up when reading such books, but I think I was bawling buckets when I finished this one.
Writing from a dog’s point of view is a very unique and unusual idea, I am personally dog obsessed and I would love to see how the author pulled this off!
Morgan, if you are dog-obsessed, than Stein’s book will be well worth the read.
I have a hard time reading and getting into books narrated by anybody other than your traditional adult or teenage character. I tried to read “The Room” this past winter and had an impossible time getting into it. Although the plot is phenomenal and the story is gripping, it is narrated by a four or five year old little boy and I just didn’t feel a connection there. I wanted to keep reading but unfortunately I left it at my mom’s house when I flew back to Florida. I still wonder had I read further if I would have changed my mind.
Mary, I’ve not read The Room, but I will agree that pulling off a point of view beyond the usual requires very skilled writing indeed. I remember reading An Ocean in Iowa which was also used a young narrator and it was frustrating for me as a reader since the child’s point of view was so limited to what was really going on. Then again, the tactic also became part of the novel’s appeal.
A friend of mine read and loved this book but couldn’t remember the title, only that it was written from the dog’s perspective. I can’t wait to go get it now that I know what it is.
Corinne, thanks so much for stopping by and I’m glad my review served to ring a bell regarding the title of Stein’s book. It is definitely worth the read 🙂
I thought I’d find this book too sentimental, Jeri, but I loved it so much. Then, this summer, when my mom broke her hip, someone gave her the book as a gift, and she adored it too. And she’s not even an animal person. it’s a really special story on several levels.
Mary, it really made my day when I passed this book onto a former student of mine (a non-reader who could take or leave animals) and he loved the story. There’s something about Enzo’s observations that really get to the heart of the matter and what the human condition is like.
I just finished reading this book and loved it! I don’t have a dog but do have a very communicative cat. I think this book would resonate with all animal lovers. I got a little bored of the car racing descriptions until they became more relevant to the story, which is all about the often messy intricacies of relationships, misunderstandings, heartless behaviour and overcoming against all odds.
I’d recommend it too!