The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
As Enzo nears the end of his life, he reflects on all the things that happened over his life that brought him to where he is today. Enzo, a dog, knows that his role in life is to help Denny, his human owner. Denny and Enzo have shared many happy times together, particularly when they watch tapes of racing or the rare occasions when Denny takes Enzo out for a spin around the track. Denny is a race car driver. Enzo even amiably shares Denny’s time and attention with Eve, Denny’s wife, and eventually Zoe, their daughter. Then trouble hits. Eve falls ill, and just as she appears to be making a recovery, she passes away. Enzo knows that this is because her soul has served its purpose in the world, but he does not have the words to explain this to Denny. Then Denny becomes embattled in a bitter custody suit with his in-laws for guardianship over his daughter. Enzo stands steadfastly with Denny throughout the turmoil and they face the challenge head on until there is nothing left to give. Meanwhile, Enzo knows that his time is almost up and prepares for his soul to depart the Earth.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein is the story of death as told through life. Stein chooses to narrate this story from the perspective of a dog, which makes the story both beautiful in its joyful innocence and incisive for its outside perspective. Enzo can observe and describe Denny’s life in a way that few other narrators can. The relationship between humans and their pets is hugely significant and meaningful, and Stein plays every last heart string in this novel. The title of the book reflects the skill and mindset necessary for the challenge of driving on a race car track in the rain, and the metaphor of racing continues throughout the book, creating a recurring theme for every challenge, obstacle, or moment of life learning. At times, the theme of the story becomes lost in the details of racing, but then Stein brings it right back to ground level by sharing all the gritty details of Enzo’s animal instincts. Stein tells a tale full of nostalgia, wisdom, and deeply felt love as only a dog could do.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, this is a sad book, but it didn’t make me cry nearly as much as I was expecting (I thought it would be along the lines of “The Fault in Our Stars,” but it was more like “The Book Thief”). My one point of contention is that the custody battle hinges on a false allegation of sexual assault by Denny against a 15-year-old girl. False reporting of sexual assault is as frequent as false reporting of any other crime, and I was disappointed that the issue got so much attention throughout the book and gave that much more weight to the myth of false accusations. Otherwise, I thought the book was adorable (who doesn’t love a story told by a dog?), and it was a super quick read. Certainly worth your time.