The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.
I've always felt almost human. I've always known that there's something about me that's different than other dogs. Sure, I'm stuffed into a dog's body, but that's just the shell. It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human. - from The Art of Racing in the Rain, page 3 -
Enzo is a dog -- but he is not just any dog. Enzo is a philosopher and an observer of humans ... he is a dog with the soul of a man. He lives with Denny Swift, a semi-professional race car driver, and Denny's beautiful wife Eve and daughter Zoe. Enzo's story begins at the end, and then rewinds to the beginning and works forward again. It is a simple story, really ... the story of a family seen through the eyes of their dog; but Enzo's insight into the human condition is what turns this simple story into something special. Like his owner Denny, Enzo loves car racing and he takes what he learns from the sport (through Denny) and uses it as a metaphor for living one's life.
This is what Denny says. He says racing is doing. It is being a part of the moment, and being aware of nothing else but that moment. Reflection must come at a later time. - from The Art of Racing in the Rain, page 14 -
I must admit, I was very reluctant to read this book -- not because I didn't think it would be a great read (I heard Garth Stein speak last year at the San Jose Book Club Expo and immediately bought The Art of Racing in the Rain afterwards); but because I knew it would make me cry. And it did. Enzo is a wonderful character and his view of life, and ultimately of death, is tender and moving. Stein makes the reader embrace his characters. For me, it was easy to believe that a dog could think and feel as Enzo did ... and so I internalized his story and it became real for me. Despite my tears, Enzo's story is not all tragedy and sadness. There is joy, exhilaration and hope in the novel as well. There are many messages embedded in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but one of these seemed the most important: we are what we manifest.
Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves. - from The Art of Racing in the Rain, page 43 -
As Denny and his family face challenges and tragedy, this concept ('that which we manifest is before us') becomes a recurrent theme. Another recurrent theme is facing our darkest fears in order to overcome them. For Enzo, it is a stuffed zebra who embodies evil intent ... and now I know why Garth Stein inscribed my book: "For Wendy, Beware the zebra!"
There are many beautiful passages in Stein's novel. His writing is graceful and insightful. Enzo's ruminations on life, on what makes a good human, and the state of our souls upon death ... are simple, tender and thoughtful.
Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. - from The Art of Racing in the Rain, page 101 -
We could learn a lot by listening to our dogs, perhaps.
The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautiful novel on many levels. Readers who love animals will certainly be drawn to Enzo. This is a novel about family, love, loyalty and spirituality. It is about overcoming obstacles and moving forward through tragedy. But mostly it is about our connection to others -- whether they be beast or human. Those readers who have recently lost a beloved pet will find this a tough read at times, but it is worth the journey.
Five stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".