The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein (2008, Harper Perennial)
I simply MUST warn you: this book necessitates the availability of a box of Kleenex in close proximity to the reader. Pretty much for the duration, actually. It’s narrated by an aged dog named Enzo (yes, you read that correctly) and his recollection of a lifetime spent with his owner and companion, Denny, is full of countless heartbreaking and beautiful scenes that inspire nearly continual waterworks.
This book, however, isn’t about exhaustively wringing gratuitous tears – I don’t really like authors who use that modus operandi, and Stein is way too talented for that. It’s a well-crafted story with a highly original plot, regardless if you buy into the premise or not (at least the dog doesn’t talk!). This isn’t some cutesy tale about a sweet-eyed dog, it’s a HUMAN story, and it’s hard and occasionally brutal. Enzo’s life with Denny isn’t idyllic – there is a great deal of pain and suffering in the family unit, and Enzo is there to witness it all, and take on some of the burden himself. (Don’t you often wonder if your cat or dog can sense and react upon your emotional state? Sure they can. And Enzo is particularly good at it). Enzo is more intuitive and “human” than you would imagine a dog would be, which is necessary to the story; he is capable of decision-making and he possesses an astonishing depth of feeling and consideration for Denny and his family. Enzo is thoroughly devoted to Denny, and would do anything for him – and that’s how we perceive a dog’s love, isn’t it?
As Enzo reflects on life and love – human AND dog – he makes a brilliant comparison to automobile racing. Denny is a race car driver, and Enzo has grown up watching races on TV, and listening very carefully to Denny’s words of wisdom regarding driving. When life becomes too unbearable, both Denny and Enzo seek the solace of racing, with its challenges and mystery. The art of racing in the rain becomes the key to life, the means to navigate and control a speeding machine when things get hairy. Stein’s beautifully wrought racing passages are the best of the book, and his philosophy is accessible and pure. It’s easy to get caught up in the ride, and enjoy every second of it (even the ones where you’re bawling your eyes out).
“A special adaptation for young readers” has emerged from HarperCollins this year, called Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. Just a quick glance hasn’t given me any hints as to what has been cut or changed from the original (I’m assuming the sex and language are out, though) – it seriously almost looks completely intact. While young readers are certainly very savvy, I’m not certain that the book is completely suitable – and reducing it to “an adorable dog story” really ruins it for me. Stay tuned for updates once I’ve read the junior edition….