Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Reading level: Adult
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (June 9, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061537969
ISBN-13: 978-0061537967
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Cover: I won't comment on this cover too much as I would have never picked up this novel without someone plopping it onto my lap. It's a dog and it's about a dog and it's got a black background...
First Sentence: "Gesture are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature."

Mini-Review: Dog person? Buy it! Cat person? Buy it! Young person? Buy it! Old person? Buy it! Anything in between? Buy it! (Are you sensing a trend?)

Book 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. 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 Zoƫ at his side.
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.

Book Review:

There are some books that you read and they completely change the way you see the world. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books. Told in the perspective of a dog, it's smart, funny, and completely lovable, exactly like its narrator. From the first paw shake to the last, I was sucked in and it won't be something I'm likely to ever forget.

Enzo is one of those characters that makes you want to know more about him immediately. The book starts off subtly and it's not until the third or fourth paragraph that we realize, oh this isn't a human speaking to us. It's actually a very clever, perceptive dog with a knack for studying human behavior. The way Enzo sees the world is absorbing and unique without being so out there that we can't relate. That's the thing about him, sometimes the reader forgets what he really is until he throws in a sentence about "not being invited to the courtroom" because he has a tail. There is this really great scene where Enzo is left home alone and is horrified to see a stuffed Zebra turn into a demon and started shredding the other stuffed animals that I don't think I'll ever forget. I also loved hearing his philosophies on the world. He often talks about becoming human in his next life (he saw a television show on reincarnation) and he's so intelligent in his perceptions that it's really hard not to believe him.

Through Enzo we meet the other characters. There is Denny, his owner, an amateur race car driver on the cusp of going pro, who in Denny's eyes can do no wrong. Denny was a delightful character solely because that's how Enzo saw him. I really did like him though because he is thoroughly tested throughout the book and goes to lows not even an animal can understand. We are introduced to Denny's love Eve, who Enzo thinks of as a bit of a threat and their interactions and relationship was very fascinating. And of course, the dreadful Twins (Eve's parents) who I wanted to maim. Altogether an amazing supporting cast.   

The plot felt a little slow at times but once I got a quarter of the way through, I couldn't put it down. Like Suzanne Collins with her Hunger Games, Stein found ways to make the low get lower and the worst possible outcome be just a starting point for what is to come. Yet, there was always hope and the ending melted my cold, cold heart (I don't generally cry from books or movies) and brought me to tears. 

The real star here though is Stein himself. Writing a convincing dog is such a daunting task but add in one that is intelligent yet simple, emotional yet animalistic is a task so daunting I wasn't sure it could be completed. Stein passed it with flying colors. I was also worried about dialog. How can a book about a dog have any? But Stein even managed to make that work, having Enzo speak to Denny even though he couldn't hear them. The metaphors drawn between Enzo's doggy world and that of the humans are incredible and effortless.

The one thing that felt a little overwhelming were some of the in depth racing chapters. Because of his master's love for the race, Enzo is also in love with the ins and outs of racing and often goes into great detail about how drivers drive their cars on the track. Though many of these turn into amazingly beautiful metaphors, I found myself skimming some of the nuanced details. Luck for me, it's seems even Stein started to notice this and put the racing information in different chapters that I could easily skim over the main idea which helped with the pacing of the story.  

I'm by no means a dog person. I own cats and love them dearly. BUT. But The Art of Racing in the Rain made me want to run out and adopt a dog just so I can look into its eyes and imagine what it might want to say to me. Impactful, beautiful, touching... all of these words don't come close to describing the bond I felt with this novel. I strongly urge everyone to give this one a read. It's life changing, world shaking, amazing and everyone deserves one of those type of novels!


1 comment:

  1. I'm a cat person but I own a dog and I hope it knows I love it! :)


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