Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, is tired of being a dog. He is looking forward, in fact, to the end of his life because of his certainty that, next time around, he will return to consciousness as a man. Enzo just cannot wait to have opposable thumbs and the kind of tongue that will allow him to form all the words he has rattling around in his head.
He knows how lucky he is to have been the one chosen from his litter of pups to live with Denny, a Seattle-based racecar driver and mechanic. Denny treats Enzo more as a friend than a pet and Enzo is smart enough to know the difference. He is not sure at first what to think when Denny falls in love with Eve and brings her home to live with them but, when a daughter is born to the happy couple, all is well again in Enzo’s world.
Enzo learns about life by listening to Denny talk about his car racing philosophy, a philosophy filled with observations that work just as well in real life as they work on the racetrack. He fills, what would otherwise be lonely days alone, watching television documentaries and The Weather Channel and, in the process, becomes more and more convinced that he is, indeed, prepared to take on human form in his next life. His evenings are so often spent along side Denny on the couch watching tapes of Denny’s past races that he even becomes somewhat of an racetrack expert.
When things take a turn for the worse for Denny and those closest to him, Enzo is there to suffer right along side him, and even manages to keep Denny from making a bad decision or two that might have cost him everything he loves most. Enzo is what we want to believe our own dogs are like. He is patient, loving, and totally aware of his place in the world but he remains capable of protecting us from ourselves and others.
And therein lies my problem with The Art of Racing in the Rain.
I could never suspend my disbelief to the degree required to lose myself in the book and, without that suspension of disbelief, I was unable to appreciate Garth Stein’s fable the way so many others have appreciated it. Enzo is the smartest guy in the room and, since the book is told from his point-of-view, he is almost always in the room. He understands Denny, his friends, his wife, and those who mean to harm him better than Denny ever will. All those hours spent in front of a television have provided Enzo with the equivalent of a college education, it seems. He not only understands everything he sees and hears, he is generally one step ahead of the humans around him.
I understand the appeal of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Denny’s race strategy and driving techniques easily translate into a coherent philosophical approach to life itself. It is a classic tale of courage, perseverance, love, and compassion, though, ultimately, it so closely follows the classic form that it holds few surprises. As in the case of many good books, however, the fun comes from the journey itself and not from the final destination. I dare say that most people who read The Art of Racing in the Rain are likely to enjoy it more than I enjoyed it, but I am not sorry that I spent a few hours with Enzo.
Rated at: 3.0