THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein

Stein Last year, I started seeing The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, everywhere. Most notably, it seemed to be in every Starbucks I set foot in. I admit that I am a bit of a book snob – if I see a book in too many places, I lose interest in reading it. I am sure that this tendency is detrimental, and that I have rejected a lot of great books simply for being too popular.

Earlier this summer, I was contacted by a book publicity company on behalf of Garth Stein. FTC DISCLOSURE They offered me a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain on the eve of the paperback version hitting stores. I was impressed that they were reaching out to bloggers, especially about what appeared to have been such a popular book, and they also offered me the chance to interview the author and do a giveaway on my site.  I am still working on the interview and giveaway, but I did finally get to the book, and I am glad that I did.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is told from the point of view of a dog, Enzo. Denny, Enzo's owner, is a race car driver who goes through a particularly difficult stretch – his wife dies rather suddenly of brain cancer, his in-laws sue him for custody of his daughter, and he faces criminal charges for a crime he didn't commit — all in the space of about a year. This annus horribilis is relayed by Enzo, who can think and analyze and emote, but can't speak.

Denny's story is relentlessly sad, and a bit unrealistic – it's hard to imagine that this poor man would realistically be forced to endure what he went through. And there are elements left underdeveloped, such as Denny's relationship with his daughter and the impact that her mother's death had on her, as well as his relationship with his parents. The end, too, was a bit Hollywood-ized.

BUT… here's what I really liked about this book. As a dog owner, I always wonder, "What does my dog think about? What goes through her mind, and does she have the emotions and thoughts I like to attribute to her?" The Art of Racing in the Rain takes on those questions. Enzo knows he's a dog, and he appreciates and accepts his role and his limitations. But he is a keen observer, both of human interaction and of how humans treat him, and his canine actions are explained and justified. I loved thinking about how the world appears, from a dog's perspective.

I am curious to know what kind of research Garth Stein did into animal psychology, and whether there are studies that back up his depiction of Enzo as a complex thinking, emotional creature. I found it very satisfying to think of Denny's companion as being the loyal, (usually) happy creature that he was, one that was satisfied with the attention and comforts usually afforded to dogs. Of course, I wonder, am I projecting my own guilt about dogs, and the way we sometimes treat them, onto Enzo and using his fictional happiness as a way to assuage that guilt? Is the book just wishful thinking?

I wish my dog Allie could read this book and tell me how realistic it is.

The Art of Racing in the Rain was an easy and satisfying read. The story was a bit thin at times, but I loved its originality and the new perspective it gave me. I've looked at my dog differently ever since I opened it.

10 Comments

  • October 18, 2009 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    I am not a pet lover, so I have to admit that I inwardly groaned when my book club selected The Art of Racing in the Rain as our September book. But I loved it! It’s a very light story and an easy read, which is sometimes a welcome relief after reading long, dark, and tragic novels (think Joyce Carol Oates’s new book, which is what I’m reading right now). I think that I flew through The Art of Racing in the Rain in two evenings. I loved experiencing the story from the dog’s point of view. I found the plot to be very predictable, but Enzo’s observations on people and on humanity in general were funny, thought-provoking, and just plain tender. Great read!

  • October 18, 2009 - 9:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the review. I also tend to get turned off when a book is so heavily endorsed by Starbucks, but I do admit that it sounds good. I’ll have to check it out.

  • Lindsay
    October 18, 2009 - 10:44 am | Permalink

    Gail, I just finished this one last week! I totally agree with you about some of the characters needing to be more fleshed out, etc., but it was a wonderful quick read, as you said. It’s nice to hope that our dogs are thinking the way Enzo is.

  • October 18, 2009 - 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m similar. If the book is promoted too much or is in Target and Starbucks and on Oprah well…

  • Michelle B.
    October 18, 2009 - 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I LOVED this book! One of my favorites of this year. Many of my friends, who are not big readers have borrowed my book and enjoyed it.
    Now I wonder, just what is my dog thinking?!

  • October 18, 2009 - 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I loved this book too. I think part of the appeal for me is that our dog loves to watch animals on TV – she gets excited and starts barking and we always wonder what she’s thinking.

  • October 19, 2009 - 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I am a cat person but it didn’t matter so much with this book. I could easily relate to Enzo even though he was the type of human that walks on all fours 🙂 To me, Stein succeeded in making him human-like.

  • October 20, 2009 - 8:18 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this book and agree that some parts of the story were thin, but since I have a dog and often prescribe emotions to him, I loved the inside look into a dog’s mind. Whether or not it is accurate is neither here nor there for me. What struck me as wonderful is that someone else besides me thinks that dogs are complex thinkers with great emotion!

  • October 28, 2009 - 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I think I read this book at exactly the right time as I found the story to pull at my emotions at all the right times. To be honest I was in tears during the last two chapters!

  • November 1, 2009 - 11:01 am | Permalink

    I loved this book on many levels and forgive it for any flaws. Like I love my dog, I guess!

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