Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Published by Harper Collins on May 13, 2008
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary
Format & Pages: hardcover, 321
Find on GoodreadsAmazonBarnes & Noble

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.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

This had been on my to-read list for almost a year and I had completely forgotten about it. Then I went into my local library one day to see this dog’s head staring me in the face from the librarian recommendations table. And I just couldn’t help but add it to my pile.

While the cover made me pick this up, the blurb inside indicating it would be told from the dog’s perspective is what made me take this baby home. I love this concept. Reading about human life through the eyes of a dog? Sign me up!

I was hooked from the first few sentences:

“Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.”

Clearly, Enzo is an intelligent and well-spoken dog, despite the fact that he obviously cannot actually speak. And props to Stein for creating a non-human character that you feel like you are inside his head, watching us from where he sits on the floor. Not only that, he is particularly insightful about human life. Some examples:

“Parking lots are weird places. People love their cars so much when they are moving, but they hurry away from them so quickly when they stop moving. People are loath to sit in a parked car for long. ”

“People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another conversations constantly. It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street. For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor’s yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling you the story, you, hearing the words “soccer” and “neighbor” in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pelé, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn’t he play for the Cosmos of New York? Did you grow up in New York? And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the streets of Três Corações with Pelé, and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length. So my initial conversational gambit – that I had a funny story about being chased by my neighbor’s dog – would be totally lost, and only because you had to tell me all about Pelé. Learn to listen!”

Ultimately, I loved this book. Beautifully written and brilliantly executed, The Art of Racing in the Rain had the right mixture of snarky comments, witty observations, and poignancy to round out the feeling of “this is life” for me. It made me feel a full spectrum of emotions, and I finished it feeling pleasantly satisfied.

I realize this might not be everyone’s thing, but I at least recommend giving it a try.

5

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