The Art of Racing in the Rain

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I had heard amazing things about this book for some time before I finally picked it up! Even then, I picked it up only because my sister was reading it for an online book club and I thought I'd join in. I'm so glad I did!

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is a story told from the viewpoint of the family dog, Enzo. Enzo observes and remarks on the idiosyncrasies of human life and hopes to be reincarnated as a human after he dies. (This is something he believes because of a documentary he once watched). But this book isn't solely about a dog telling a story. It's about a family, and a father, and the trauma that affects the family -- which is then narrated by the dog.

For the first 50 or so pages I wondered what everyone thought was so great. Sure, it was a cute idea, but the surprisingly somber tone of the book had me questioning it. I envisioned Enzo as cynical and the human equivalent of a "grumpy old man". I also was unsure about the large amount of NASCAR talk because this is an event (sport?) that does not interest me. At all.

I will say, though, that the inclusion of the life/NASCAR comparisons were thought provoking. "The art of racing in the rain" is after all a skill that takes work as is making it through difficult life events. In addition to these comparisons, Enzo, throughout the book, talked about different famous race car drivers and what qualities of theirs he admired. I did find all this interesting enough and enjoyed the useage of it. What I also liked was that this not just about the dog; rather, there was a completely unrelated (to the dog) story that was taking place around him. I don't have anything against dogs... I have a dog who I loooove (check out the about me section of my blog) but the book was more intricate than just that. This story was absolutely heartrending and emotional. I consider a book great when it is able to elicit such strong emotions from me, and this did!

One other thing I wanted to mention was the writing. It was simple, yet powerful, which makes sense as it was narrated by the dog. And it's sort of off-topic, but it sort of showed me how to be a good writer... I read and review a lot of books, and I hope to write a book(s) one day, so I pay a large amount of attention to sentence structure, "show don't tell", etc. And what I noticed was that Enzo seemed to have a grasp on the "show don't tell" because as a dog, he doesn't know to "tell" -- he just says what he observes. He used fairly simple sentence structure, yet had an impressive vocabulary. The method of writing worked so well and can be applied to other narrators too!

I want to leave you with a couple passages that I really liked.

I marveled at them both; how difficult it must be to be a person. To constantly subvert your desires. To worry about doing the right thing, rather than doing what is most expedient. At that moment, honestly, I had grave doubts as to my ability to interact on such a level. I wondered if I could ever become the human I hoped to be. (pg. 122)

Enzo's human observations are so true too..

I felt strangely anxious that day, in a very human way. People are always worried about what's happening next. They often find it difficult to stand still, to occupy the now without worrying about the future. People are not generally satisfied with what they have; they are very concerned wtih what they are
going to have. A dog can almost power down his psyche and slow his anticipatory metabolism, like David Blaine attempting to set the record for holding his breath at the bottom of a swimming pool -- the tempo of the world around him simply changes. On a normal dog day, I can sit still for hours on end with no effort. But that day I was anxious. I was nervous and worried, uneasy and distracted. I paced around and never felt settled. I didn't care for the sensation, yet I realized it was possibly a natural progression of my evolving soul, and therefore I tried my best to embrace it. (pg. 188)

I highly recommend this book to BOTH dog-lovers and not. Anyone can find something they like, relate to, or enjoy reading in this book.


sumanam said...

Wonderful review Jenny, seems like a very interesting and emotional book.
I will check it out if the libraray has it.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this one even though it started out a little slow. I got this one after all the hype on PBS, but still haven't read it yet...

sumanam said...

Jenny I have an award for you, pls. pick it up..

...Mrs.P! said...

Great review! This has been on my wish list for a few months now, and after reading your review I think it's time to move it into my 'shopping cart' so to speak.

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