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

It took a little convincing to get me to read this book. I got an email about the book and they almost lost me with “as only a dog could tell it.” A dog telling the story is almost always a recipe for disaster. In this case, instead of disaster, there’s a pretty terrific story and a narrator with an interesting viewpoint (and one heck of a vocabulary for a terrier).

Enzo is a mixed breed pup adopted by Denny — a good-hearted young man who races cars when he can find a sponsor, and draws much of his philosophy of life from the racetrack. The book starts late in Enzo’s life and the story is told in flashbacks: meeting Denny’s wife, Eve; the birth of his daughter, Zoe; the highs and lows of his racing career. Enzo wants very much to be human — he is convinced that he will come back as a man in his next life. He’s already practicing:

“Sometimes if I’m watching the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or PBS or even one of the kids’ channels — when Zoe was little I’d end up spending half the day trying to pry goofy jingles out of my brain — I learn about other cultures and other ways of life, and then I start thinking about my own place in the world and what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

Enzo has an interesting take on a lot of things (he believes that cleaning up dog droppings is the penance people do for keeping their dogs under such strict control). He sees and hears everything that goes on in the house and he has his own unique interpretation of things. He is fascinated by the television, he loves watching tapes of Denny’s races, and he has to deal with his jealousy over Denny’s relationship with Eve. He distrusts Denny’s inlaws and, sadly, Denny would have been much better off if Enzo could have warned him.

Denny’s life has a lot of happiness, but it also has tremendous tragedy. His wife Eve develops brain cancer, and the only one who knows it is Enzo.

“When Denny was away and Eve fed me and she leaned down to give me my bowl of food and my nose was near her head, I detected a bad odor, like rotting wood, mushrooms, decay. Wet, soggy decay. It came from her ears and her sinuses. There was something inside Eve’s head that didn’t belong.”

His meddling inlaws make the situation more difficult. Denny is too trusting to see that they have their own agenda. It was painful to read these sections — an attentive reader will see what’s coming, just as Enzo did. Denny wants to do the right thing, even when the bad luck just continues to pile up, and Enzo is his constant companion. In the end, they come through together.

Enzo made me laugh. I loved his observations on people and the things we do. I loved his obsession with having thumbs and a small tongue. I loved the way he was always planning for the day when he would be a man, trying to imprint his soul with all of the things he had learned. Most of all, I loved his devotion to Denny. This poor guy needed a best friend and Enzo was a real trooper. I’m not usually a big fan of sentimental books, but this is an exception worth making.

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