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

Enzo spends a lot of time in front of the television set. That’s true of a lot of people, but Enzo isn’t a person. Not a human person anyway. He’s a dog. He’s a mixed mutt of sorts, but he is also the narrator of this story. Enzo, you will find, not only has amazing insight into human nature, he may give you a little insight into the lives of dogs as well.

The story, however, is not about Enzo. It is about the human beings who share their home with him. We just get to see their lives and their stories unfold through his eyes, the perspective of the family dog. Garth Stein has done an amazing job with this story and its unique narrative perspective. He manages to keep the reader’s view of events limited to only what can be discerned from a knee-high vantage point and not being allowed at the dinner table. You will laugh and you will probably cry, but you will not stop reading this book until you have reached the last page. At that point, you will put it down fully satisfied that it was worth the read.

Enzo belongs to a single young man named Denny who has a passion for racing. Enzo is always available with a listening ear, and Denny shares his love for speed and maneuvering a car around the track with his furry companion. Enzo is at his side as Denny reviews videotapes of races and gives ongoing commentary as to the skills and mistakes being displayed by the drivers under various conditions.

Denny is not a big name NASCAR driver. He’d like to be, but he hasn’t gotten his big break – yet. He works as a car salesman to make a living and finance his racing dream. He’s a good driver, and as Enzo will tell you, he’s mastered “the art of racing in the rain.”

As with many young men, Denny does not stay single for long, and Enzo must share Denny with a young lady named Eve. It is a relationship that Enzo doesn’t fully understand, but accepts nevertheless. When Denny is gone racing and Eve is ready to deliver their first baby, Eve begins to show signs that a bond has developed with Enzo. He is the constant that doesn’t change and is always there. Being home, being safe, being loved are all represented by a shaggy dog laying on the floor with his head on his paws and his eyes on you.

Enzo explains the change in their relationship this way, “I had always wanted to love Eve as Denny loved her, but I never had because I was afraid. She was my rain. She was my unpredictable element. She was my fear. But a racer should not be afraid of the rain; a racer should embrace the rain.”

Baby Zoe enters the household and everything changes once again. This tiny little human becomes the center of everyone’s attention. Enzo, never a reactionary, takes it in stride and gradually learns that Zoe’s toys are not his toys. She is another human being added to his care, one that is a bit more vulnerable, but also fully accepting of him as a natural part of her life.

Just as Denny seems about to realize his racing dreams, tragedy strikes. Enzo has seen it coming for some time, but Eve has worked hard to hide her symptoms from Denny. Her fear of hospitals and her fear of the possible diagnosis has kept her from seeking help. A long hospital stay, and then being released to stay at her parent’s house to receive supervised care, removes all normalcy from their lives.

As is often the case, truths are whispered into the ears of the family dog, that aren’t shared openly. Other times, his presence is written off as insignificant and he learns the secret plots of  those with selfish motives and intent for harm. If only he was a human and could communicate directly with his family members.

Tragedy piles upon tragedy, but Enzo doesn’t let Denny forget the many lessons they learned from the racetrack. After all, “racing doesn’t lie,” and Denny was one of the few racecar drivers who had mastered “the art of racing in the rain.”

Many have compared this book to classics like “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. Whie and “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson. It certainly has some of the same elements. For some reason, the voice of wisdom is often heard more clearly when put in parable form and channeled through a personality imbedded in non-human form.

Originally published in HerLife Magazine August 2013

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