The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books where once you start reading, you can’t put it down, and when you have to take a break you keep thinking about the plot.
This new novel by Garth Stein is about an old dog Enzo, and the story is told from his point of view. It begins with the end, where he’s dying by his master Denny’s side, and as he recounts his life, the reader is shown all the wisdom of a dog who loves car racing. Seems like a weird combination at first, but there are so many little yet profound truths revealed here and there: the result of Enzo’s lot in life, which is to wait, observe, and learn.
The book is as much about Enzo’s human family as it is about him: his master Denny, the wife Eve, and daughter Zoë. Tragedy strikes when Eve shows symptoms of a brain tumour (although due to her refusal to see the doctor they don’t discover it until much later), yet Denny can’t give up his love for cars and racing. Enzo watches everything and tries to participate in a very human-like way, acting as Denny’s solid anchor and best friend. Mike, Denny’s human best friend, can’t hold a candle to how much Enzo supports and helps his master, who only falters during the times he cannot help but be a dog.
Although many books with a first ‘animal’ narrative tend to be for children or tweens, I found that Stein handled Enzo’s voice excellently – it’s not condescending, like some sort of satirical gibe at us ‘pathetic humans making life horrible for animals’, nor is it dumbed down to emphasise the animalistic nature of the speaker. Although there are parts were the dog mentions interesting facts about humans (e.g. despite the love some of us have for our cars, this love doesn’t seem to apply to a hospital – no one likes to linger in a hospital’s parking lot), and the reader is occasionally reminded about his state of being, they turn to be more like statements or comments; sometimes even lamentations. It’s clear that Enzo is actually quite reverent towards humans, and constantly strives to be more ‘human-like’. No, maybe not even human-like, just Denny-like. This is a dog who loves his master, and it’s this deep yet simple love that touches all who read this book.
The only criticism I have for this book was the epilogue, which I will try not to spoil. If you’re still afraid then please skip this paragraph altogether. Anyway, I felt it would’ve been better if Stein had just ended on the last chapter, to let Enzo’s soul leave in peace, no matter how uncertain the doggy afterlife is. The epilogue just felt a little too much ‘tagged on’ to the ending, like an afterthought that doesn’t really matter.
Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book. It was touching without being cheesy, and profound without being too cliché or preachy. I definitely recommend reading this novel, not just as a summer read, but as something to read slowly and enjoy over and over again, because Enzo has much, much more to say as long as there’s someone willing to listen.