Monday, September 5, 2016

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

This book is narrated by a pooch named Enzo, an observant insightful Labrador-Terrier mix. Enzo loves his owner Denny Swift, a race car driver who starts out as a customer service rep at a car dealership in Seattle. Enzo and Denny watch TV together, especially the Speed Channel and - when he's left home alone - Enzo likes to watch the Weather Channel, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, etc. As the book opens Enzo is old and dying but hopeful he'll be reincarnated as a human - a notion he picked up in a documentary about Mongolian cultural beliefs. 

From his old and wise vantage point Enzo looks back on his life with Denny, which began when Denny plucked him from a pile of for-sale puppies. Enzo recalls his deliriously happy life with Denny, his resentment when Denny met his girlfriend (and future wife) Eve, the 'truce' between Enzo and Eve about sharing Denny, and the birth of the couple's baby Zoe. Enzo also recalls Denny's struggle to establish a racing career and the would-be champion's long absences from home for training and racing. 

Enzo is envious of opposable thumbs (he'd love to turn doorknobs) and wishes he could talk. This is especially true when Enzo smells a rotten mushroomy odor coming from Eve's face, a harbinger of a serious illness. Unfortunately the book's humans don't discover this until much much later. 

In one harrowing scene Denny is away for a few days and Eve - suffering from a crushing headache - packs up Zoe and leaves the house. Unfortunately she forgets all about Enzo. The pooch, being a clever fellow, rations the toilet water and does his business on a mat near the door. He also has a 'hallucination' wherein Zoe's toy zebra comes to life and wrecks her room. When Denny returns he's shocked, angry with Eve, and apologetic to Enzo. Then Denny finds Zoe's room in a shambles and becomes seriously piqued....but Enzo understands and feels bad he couldn't stop the zebra. (I know people who would take the same tack. LOL)

Around the middle of the book, when Denny's racing career is getting serious traction, some really bad things happen. This part of the story is VERY disturbing because several characters behave in a way that is disgustingly venal and self-serving. I don't believe decent people would act like this but a story requires drama. And there's plenty of drama from this point on.

Throughout Enzo's tale he recalls Denny's truisms about the philosophy of racing - axioms that can be applied to real life such as: keep your eye on where you're going, not where you are. Enzo also recalls the most exciting ride of his life, when Denny secured him to the passenger seat of a race car and tore around the track at upwards of 125 mph. (I would have had a heart attack.) The book ends with a very touching scene, and you might need a tissue or two.

I enjoyed this compelling well-told story and the life lessons it imparts. Recommended for fans of literary fiction and racing aficionados.

Rating: 4 stars

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