Monday, November 1, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain: Stay the Course!

Wow — what an emotional wallop!  Even as a football-watching, beer-drinking, dude-lit-reading, red-blooded American male, I say the following without an ounce of sarcasm: Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching stories I've read in a long time. I haven't been that near to bawling my eyes out while reading a book since I was like nine years old!

You've heard about this book, right? (No shame if you haven't — I hadn't until about 14 people recommended it on my Dog (Book) Post.) It's narrated by dog named Enzo. Enzo is annoyed that he doesn't have thumbs and can't talk, but comforts himself with the notion that in his next life, he'll be human. In fact, he feels like he's ready to be human now. (He also thinks that the domestication of dogs was a conspiracy by humans to prevent them from evolving further. If I were a dog, I'd buy that for sure!)

Enzo lives with Denny, an amateur race car driver, Denny's wife Eve and daughter Zoe. Life is good for awhile. But then it's not. Eve gets sick. Her parents meddle. And increasingly bad things happen. But Enzo sticks by Denny's side, both as a companion and a voice (so to speak) of reason.

Enzo is a dog, to be sure, so there is much he doesn't understand. But what he does, what he's learned from Denny, is that race car driving can be a metaphor for life. And so, the lessons learned on the track are just as applicable when the dog poo hits the fan in real life. Denny explains that the key to racing in the rain is to remember that "that which we manifest is before us." A driver must be proactive because what he initiates, he can control. What he reacts to, he can't. So, too, in life. And as things get increasingly worse for Denny, he's tempted to give in and quit fighting. But it's Enzo's companionship that carries him forward. Denny is an incredibly admirable protagonist, and you root really, really hard for a happy ending. You root so hard, in fact, you're willing to suspend disbelief quite a bit for a few parts (of course, other than the fact that a dog is telling us the story).

This is a must-read for any dog-lover. But if you're a crier, keep the tissues nearby. It's a quick, frenzied read. It's simple, but intellectually engaging. It's funny, but often very sad, too. I really liked it!


  1. I sort of shy away from reading anything about a dog because I end up bawling uncontrollably with embarrassing hiccups resulting in swollen eyes for three days. Not to mention that I end up spoiling my dog and cat to the point where my husband begins to question all sanity.

    Now, however, I did read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein, which was actually first published in 1998 and is now being re-released -- and I loved it (nothing to do with dogs though, except one part). So that sort of made me think I should read The Art of Racing in the Rain. I just really, really don't like to cry...

    Sigh. I might have to pick this one up now. Great review, as always!

  2. Oh, I really so loved this one. But nobody warned me about the crying, and I had myself one big, unexpected, UGLY cry. OK, I tear up right this minute thinking about my favorite scene, when Enzo rides in the racecar and barks for Denny to drive faster. Argh. Damn tears. I'm glad to see that a real man can love a book like this!

  3. I think I've had my fill of tear-jerker books for the year, but it does sound very good. I'll keep it in mind when I don't mind a good cry ;)

  4. You know this is another one of those 'been on my TBR shelf for years now.......' Well technically about a year, so I really should get around to reading it sometime soon I suppose. Seeing as I get a bit teary at the news most days I'll probably have to get this book a plastic cover to stop it getting waterlogged.

  5. Does the dog die? Because if the dog dies I'm not going anywhere near this thing. To be safe I'm not going anywhere near this thing.

  6. I frequently found myself forgetting that Enzo was a dog. The racing bits got a bit long for me as I was reading but the lessons from them really stick with you. I thought it was a bit predictable and some of the characters kind of stereotypes but I really liked it any way.

  7. Greg, your review was so refreshing and genuine. Today was no school for me, so after I voted, I went to the library and got several books--I put in a request for this one. I will be sure to read it with a large box of tissues, in the privacy of my home!

  8. I got about half way through this one and realized what was going to happen and had to stop. I was to invested in Enzo and since I can cry during commercials, felt that ugly cry would not even come close to describing what I would do if what I thought would happen, happened.

    It is the only really good book I have read that I did not finish.


  9. You know, I didn't cry at this book. I actually found it to be rather cheesy and unremarkable. Maybe it's because I'm more of a cat person? Clearly I am pretty much the only one who didn't love it!

  10. @Teresa - Yes, yes you do. ;)

    @Coffee - Now, that made me laugh. I've shied away from reading about dogs for entirely different reasons, but I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. It does have a nice balance of happy and sad, if that's at all reassuring.

    @Sandy - Bark twice for faster! That was just exhilaratingly awesome to read!

    @Brenna - Ha - yep, always good to have a few tearjerkers in reserve for when you feel like a good cry. ;) (I think you just pinpointed a key difference between men and women. Hard to imagine a fella saying that, right?)

    @mummazappa - Pull it down! It's a really quick read - and a good distraction from the depressing news!

  11. @Ken - I ain't sayin'...

    @Lisa - Yeah, you have to be a car-racing fan to totally and completely enjoy those parts (and I'm not either). But thankfully the pace is still so breezy that the novel doesn't get bogged down by those parts. And, yeah, the Twins were definitely stereotypes, but I didn't find it predictable at all. Kept me guessin'...

    @bibliophiliac - Thanks for the kind words! I hope you enjoy it - can't wait to hear what you think.

    @pburt - Ha - that's the first incidence I've ever heard of stopping a book because it's TOO good. Well, I guess that's not completely accurately describing your experience, but I know what you mean...

    @Erin - Hey, to each his/her own. What about it did you find cheesy?

  12. While I enjoyed this book, it was totally predictable. That didn't make me enjoy it any less, though. :)

  13. Kenneth, the dog DOES die. He then gets reincarnated as a person.