Thursday, April 1, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN


Summary: 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. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

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. -- Harper


I was so excited when I saw my local library had the unabridged version of "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein in their audio book collection. I have read numerous rave reviews for this book, and I’ve been dying to read it. I love to read, but don’t always have as much time as I’d like to devote to reading, and audio books have become my new best friend. Living in the Washington, DC area I spend a lot of time in the car sitting in traffic or driving to various events and activities, and I used to dread that wasted time… now I can’t wait to hop in the car to see what will happen next in whatever book I’m listening to. After hearing so many rave reviews from friends that have read this book, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer to read, or in my case listen, to it. I absolutely adored it! I was completely drawn in by the story, the characters; and this novel made me laugh so hard (many times) and even cry at a few scenes. It was simply a pleasure to listen to/read.

As a creative writing major, I understand the challenge a writer undertakes when giving a voice to a character when the success of the story pivots on the believability of that one character. It is even more difficult when the character lacks opposable thumbs, cannot speak and happens to be a dog.

In the novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, is the main character and serves as a vehicle to not only relay the story of an amateur race car driver, his cancer-stricken wife, and their daughter, but also acts as an anchor for the family as life hands them many ups and downs.

From the beginning of the book, Stein captures his readers. As the book begins the reader meets the narrator, Enzo, who is at the end of his life. Quickly, the reader realizes Enzo is much more than your average mutt, he is the glue that holds this family together. Enzo yearns to be human and finds himself frustrated by his inability to speak and be understood by those around him. Throughout the novel, Enzo holds tight to a myth he once heard that states dogs return in their next life as humans. This is his driving force to continue on as a dog.

Enzo will steal your heart (I know he stole mine), and provide readers with a new look at life. Enzo is by far my favorite narrator out of any book I’ve read in recent memory. He is a loyal and loving companion to Denny and his family, but Enzo also offers insight into the basic human nature that is rarely explored on this level in novels. It was these insights into humankind that make this one of my all time favorite books.

An amateur race car driver, Enzo’s owner is Denny Swift, who shares his love of speed with his dog riding shotgun in his car. Enzo spends his days alone at the house watching videos of race car drivers and analyzing their techniques. Of course, this is symbolism of how humans live their lives under difficult conditions, much like race car drivers performing in the rain.

“Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals,” Denny always says,” and you don’t want to break them. That’s how you drive in the rain.” Enzo explains to the reader in one scene.

The reader will feel heartbroken when Enzo displays how humans treat dogs in the most cavalier of ways. There were times while reading this novel that I found myself envious of Enzo’s innate abilities to pick out which humans to trust and which humans to stay clear of, and at times I was afraid for him as he tried to work his way through the peculiar dynamics of human life.

Long before any doctors suspect a problem, it is Enzo who first senses the cancer in Denny’s wife, Eve, and it is Enzo who becomes her steadfast companion through treatment, even though Eve initially disliked Enzo.

“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I will live my life.” Enzo provides the reader with so much knowledge and insight into how to live life, as displayed in these lines.

Throughout the novel, Stein magnificently crafts writing like the above quote. Enzo is full of incredibly insightful observations, and the reader quickly learns Enzo has an old soul and much knowledge to offer humans. The only part of the story I question is the predictability of evil-in-laws battling for custody with Denny over his and Eve’s daughter Zoe, after Eve loses her battle with cancer. The idea of Denny as a desolate island against the unfeeling relatives has been overdone in many stories. Through this custody battle it is Enzo and race car driving buddies who stand by Denny’s side during tough financial struggles caused by the legal battles. However, the dog aspect, and Enzo’s ever faithful attitude makes this story unique.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain,” is a work of fiction, and this helps Stein build a strong relationship between Enzo and Denny that can ring true with readers from all walks of life. I found this to be a much better read than “Marley and Me” by John Grogan, and I think the writing style and the creative license available to Stein as a fiction writer is a contributing factor to the success.

I have dog loving friends that refuse to read anything about animals; because they worry they will be let down or saddened by the ending of books. I sometimes feel that way too, but my love of reading and animals also draws me to these types of stories. This book is an exception. While I was sad at times, the book provides enough foreshadowing that I always knew what was coming and prepared myself for heartbreaking scenes. I found myself loving this book so much as I listened to it that I worried the ending could not do the book justice. I’m glad to say my fears were proved wrong. The last few chapters of this novel, though they did cause me to shed a few tears, were my favorite parts! Rather than finishing the book with a sense of heartbreak and sadness (how I felt after Marley and Me), I finished this with a sense of joy and hope about life and love. I was so grateful to Enzo for leading me through his wisdom and explaining his life-affirming messages throughout the story.

This is the only Garth Stein novel I have ever read, but after reading this book I am planning on exploring some of his other books, as well. This now is on the list of my all time favorite books! If someone told me I needed to read a book told by a dog about his race car driving owner and his family struggles, I would never have considered it, and thought you really didn’t know the type of literature I enjoy. With all odds against him, Stein was able to tell this story in a way that truly captures the hearts of his readers. He used symbolism and incredible descriptions throughout the novel to create a truly magnificent literary work. He compares race car driving (especially in the rain) to living life and its many ups and downs. In ways I found the reflections on life and human relationships similar to another one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but Enzo is able to provide a sense of hope and loyalty that other books truly lack. You might enjoy looking at this interview with Stein to gain more insight into the writing process of this novel. I really enjoyed his answer to the question, “What answers can we all learn from Enzo?”


All in all, “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, is a perfect book for people everywhere. This is one of the few books I think I will actually re-read! The book is truly a page turner – I listened to it in a weekend, and the story will capture any reader’s attention and steal your heart in the very first chapter. I would be truly shocked if I found someone who did not adore this book and its message. If you’ve read this book, I look forward to reading your comments on this endearing novel.


Check out the book trailer and you too will fall desperately in love with Enzo, and want an Enzo of your own! Isn’t he precious?




I'm hoping to post a giveaway to honor my blogging milestone of over 100 followers this weekend (I have to find my camera cord)!! The items are all ready to be photographed and include a copy of this fabulous book, an adorable leash rack, and some extra surprises to be given to one lucky reader!! Stay tuned!!!!

4 comments:

  1. This book has been on my profile fave list from the beginning. Just put it on my Amazon recommendations last week. A fine Seattle writer that pulls off what I could never imagine; telling a READABLE story through the eyes of Enzo the dog. You’ll love Enzo and despise the Mercer Island in-laws.
    Huge thumbs up.

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  3. I love that book! I got it when it was only available at Starbucks - way before it got big! It is definately one of my favorites!

    Sam

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  4. It is also one of my favorite books too!

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