Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

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

19 comments:

  1. Sorry you did not enjoy this book more; the audio version was an all time favorite of mine. )I'm not even a dog lover) :)

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  2. I liked the book but I too could not suspend my disbelief. It felt much like reading Benji long ago. Benji the book from 1977 or so is written from the dog's perspective. So reading this book recently made me remember reading that book Benji at a very young age. I could suspend my disbelief then either. I still remember Benji complaining about his child owner dressing him in clothes. Thought it was stupid then....still is now.

    www.shishnit.org

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  3. I'm still stalled on this one. Love Enzo, but don't like being emotionally manipulated by all the grief and well, you know, that other incident. As much as I love Enzo, I'm having trouble wanting to pick up the book again.

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  4. I have not read it yet, but your review is the first I've seen to bring up these particular concerns. Very interesting review, thanks!!

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  5. Great review! I'm always so hesitant to tell others that I didn't exactly love a book about dogs or cats or whatever. They usually end up falsely assuming I'm an animal hater just because I disliked some cheesy book.

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  6. Funny thing, Diane, is that I AM a dog lover but couldn't buy into ol' Enzo much...just not enough dog left in him, I suppose.

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  7. Kristy, I just never got rolling with this one. I found it to be an extremely easy and pleasant read, but I was always aware of the little things that bugged me and never could just enjoy it for what it is.

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  8. Please don't let me scare you away from it, Rhapsody. It's not a bad book...mediocre, IMO, but not bad.

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  9. It certainly has a lot of soap opera in it, doesn't it, Jenclair? All that tragedy but still so predictable an ending...my other main peeve.

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  10. Thanks, Rosemary. Sounds like you've been there...I knew I would be in the minority on this one once I realized that my opinion was not going to change. And, I absolutely love dogs and, in fact, most animals, even cats. :-)

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  11. Sorry, Reader23...but I sure am hearing from lots of friends about my review, old and new ones.

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  12. I've been curious about this book ... thank you for the balanced review.

    http://starkravingbibliophile.blogspot.com/

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  13. Sorry you did not enjoy this more. It is one of the first books I have been able to recommend to multiple people and every one I know who read it loved it. Simple, yes, but I loved the car racing/life lessons. I also love dogs so perhaps that makes a difference. On to the next...

    JenC

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  14. Do take a look at it, Laughing Stars. I'm definitely part of what seems to be a tiny minority of readers whe were not enthralled by this one.

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  15. JenC, I love dogs, too, so that isn't the difference. I am not AT ALL enthralled by car racing, especially NASCAR, so maybe that is part of the difference?

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  16. Sam...I haven't read the book but this is a great review that uses psychographics profiles of the main characters to challenge the idea that the distinction between man and his best friend is both spiritually than physically.

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  17. We recently listened to the audio version of this book on a long trip up I-95. We thought it was very good and enjoyed it but I wonder if I would have liked it as much if I'd just read it.

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  18. That's a good question. Personally, I suspect I would have been a little easier on it in audio book version because there are more things to review in an audio book than in a printed one.

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