Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein (5 stars)

Let me start by saying my mother and sister initially recommended this book to me, so I recommended it to my book club to force me to pick it out of my “gathering dust” book pile next to my bed. I have so many reading commitments these days, and I knew I wouldn’t get to this until it was added to my to-do list.

Even with strong recommendations, I was hesitant to read a book Entertainment Weekly hailed as, “Fans of Marley & Me, rejoice.” Marley & Me was mainly fluff. I read it (book club), but it was forgettable. It isn't the type of review I'd want on my back cover. But I get it. It’s marketing. They are both dog books, and Marley & Me was a commercial success. Plus, the racing theme wasn’t selling me either.

Image from GoodReads
The Art of Racing in the Rain is so much more than a dog or racecar book. The novel starts with Enzo’s narration on page two, “I’m old. And while I’m very capable of getting older, that’s not the way I want to go out . . . the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV is a documentary that explained everything to me, made it all clear, told the whole truth: when a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.” Enzo, you see, is a dog and narrates the story.

I read somewhere that Garth Stein had a difficult time finding an agent because they were all worried about a dog narrator. Enzo is compassionate, honest, flawed, and beautiful inside and out . . . what more would anyone want from the story’s narrator? As I read, I would often forget he was a dog, the depth of his emotions and unique perspectives would make any human envious.

Enzo tells the story about Denny, his racecar driver owner. At first it’s just the two of them, and then Denny falls in love with Eve. Enzo is jealous at first, but ultimately he and Eve form a very special bond when Zoe, Denny and Eve’s daughter, is born.

Racecar driving is in Denny’s blood; he’s a natural. But the dream never quite comes to fruition. The story uses the elements of driving a racecar to point out bigger messages such as, “There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” I must admit, I gained some respect for the art of racecar driving reading this novel. Who knew?

The heart of the story, however, was so unexpected. The reader knows from the onset that Enzo is old and dying. We have the handkerchief ready for the inevitable conclusion. But I was not expecting the heart-wrenching battle his wife faced which led to Denny’s biggest “race” to keep his daughter.

I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a beautiful read, inspired even more by the lovable Enzo. You’ll laugh (especially if you, like me, have always owned dogs−I’m sorry, shared a home with dogs) and cry. The author too conveniently uses Denny’s absent parents to move story, but no work is perfect. There’s a great scene in the book reminiscent of The Help (nobody will forget the pie, and nobody will forget Enzo’s dirty incident with his enemy, the crows) because it will stay with you.

Finally, the ending is sweeter than I expected. You’ll want to hug the book when you are done. My daughter is an animal lover, so I am interested in hearing if anyone has read the YA version of this book. I’m wondering how little was really changed to make it appropriate for 9-12 year olds.

My rating = 5 Stars!! - Run to your bookstore / Hit the Buy Button quickly on your ebook device (Or you could run to check it out at your library!)