Monday, February 27, 2012

Completed: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Dear Jenny,

This book opens with a very sick dog, contemplating the end of his life. Right then, I thought, "There is no flipping way I can read this m'fer." So I shut it down and went online to read reviews. The majority of reviews claimed that it's "uplifting," so I pressed on.

I'm glad I did -- it was a very quick read (I started one day and finished the next), not terribly complex, and, despite some tears, generally uplifting.

The narrator of the book is a dog named Enzo. While reading the book, I kept thinking, "So that's what my dog is thinking!" and then I'd have to remind myself that, um, yeah... it's not actually written by a dog, Kelly. I guess that's a sign of good writing, right? There were moments where I believed it was written by a dog!

After the death's-door opener, the story goes back to Enzo's puppyhood, his adoption by a single man (a race car driver) and that man's life as he finds a wife, buys a house, has a child, loses his wife, almost loses his child, but ultimately triumphs, and, finally, the dog feeling at peace to "leave" this man and his daughter (ie, die), now that he is old and they no longer need him (heart wrenching there.)

Enzo loves to watch TV and becomes educated by watching it all day long while his master is at work. He wishes he could speak, but:
I have no words to rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around in my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences. [1]
However, he has learned from a documentary that, if a dog has lived a good life, some cultures believe that he will come back as a human in his next life, which he greatly desires.

As unrealistic as the intelligence of this dog is, the story is surprisingly believable (perhaps because he does resort to doggish behaviors from time to time for which he is, heartbreakingly, ashamed) until the very end when he dies, comes back as a human, and then seeks out his old master and meets him as a man, with the same name as the dog had. In retrospect, this seems completely far-fetched, but while reading the book, you're so involved in all of the heart-wrenching twists and turns of this family's life that you are rooting for him and you cry with joy when the author gives you the Disney-style satisfaction. At least, that was my experience, and, based on the reviews, most readers agree.

The highlights of the book were definitely the dog insights. (Which are, of course, imagined. But they're so great, I want to believe them.) The name of the book comes from driving skills of the dog's master -- he is especially skilled at racing in the rain. In one scene, the master takes Enzo to the track as a passenger and says, "One bark for slower and two barks for faster." The dog barks twice. To keep this in the realm of reality, the master is startled by this reaction, but it's amazingly sweet to read this dog's perspective on driving fast, as he absolutely loves it. I am actually tearing up as I write this -- this part was not sad at all, just very touching. Enzo's unbridled joy at riding in the car on the racetrack was incredibly well-written. He did not want the ride to end and I, as the reader, did not want the passage to end. Really nice work.

In one heartbreaking scene, he is left alone in the house for three days (the master's wife is ill with some kind of brain tumor and, in her distraction, forgets he is there when she goes to get help) and he ends up destroying the daughter's stuffed animals. His recollection of the event is that one of the animals, a zebra, went mad and started torturing him and the other animals. He does not remember tearing the animals apart himself -- just that the zebra was insane and drove him insane. Later , whenever he touches on some of his more dog-like tendencies (he really wants to be a human), he refers to that zebra -- the zebra is there, in all of us, waiting to rear its ugly head. I thought it was a pretty well-done take on the darker side of human nature, from a dog's perspective. As much as he wants to be human, he's still a dog. In a dog's terms, it's the crazy zebra that pushed him to do things he should not. For humans... well, who knows what excuse we have? It would be nice to blame it on a damned zebra.

Overall, this was an endearing quick read. The character of Enzo is likeable and his observations of the human condition are poignant -- both heart-breaking and heart-warming. It's not life-changing, but I would recommend it to anyone who likes dogs and is looking for a good story with an interesting voice.



  1. Huh. I have heard of this title a bunch of times (it's a good title!) but had no idea what it was about.

    You're really selling it and it sounds good, but I just generally am not a fan of the animal-as-narrator. Unless, you know, it's a picture book. I wonder why that is---maybe it's related to my long and well documented problems with the first person narrator. I'm already disinclined to "buy" those stories, and it's even harder when it's a non-human. But this book does sound charming.

    Ironically, this dog wants to be human, but I'd give anything to come back as someone's well-loved housecat. Now that's the life!


  2. Obviously, I have no problem "buying" stories like this, as, of course, from time to time I thought the darned book was written by a dog! Heh. :)

    While reading this book, I kept thinking of Room, where the narrator was a child. I'm so happy we have this blog, as I just went back and read what we both wrote about that book! I was irritated by that narrator (which I don't really remember now -- I just remember liking the book) and you were okay with him, although, as you state above, you generally hate first-person narration, especially by a child.

    Maybe it has a lot to do with the voice -- the voice of Enzo is really likable and sweet. You know, like a dog. ;) I wonder if that would be enough for you to overcome your issues, or if you'd just feel like, "Come on! It's a DOG." the whole time. Heh. You could seriously read this book in a couple of hours, so if you ever want to give it a try, it wouldn't take up much of your time. (Perhaps in the summer.)

  3. Yes, for sure in the summer. This is the kind of book I could pick up from someone, too. I definitely remember hearing a lot of buzz about it. For a while, I felt like EVERYONE was reading it, so I feel like I'll stumble across it at some point.

    You did a great job selling it, seriously. I'd read it.