Garth Stein’s third novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a uniquely told story through the eyes of the ever loving and ever loyal dog Enzo. Chapter one begins with Enzo in his adult years, knowing that he will be passing away soon, and thus begins to sort through his life, from being a puppy, well into his old age.
When Enzo is a puppy, he is adopted by Denny Swift. As Enzo develops a tight-knit bond with Denny, we see their relationship expand as Eve joins the picture and eventually little Zoe. Enzo’s instinct kick in when he can sense that something is not right with Eve. Enzo can smell the brain cancer long before anyone else in the family, but is unable to communicate with this owners to send them a warning. Enzo is an incredibly philosophical dog, obsessed with TV and racecars. Denny is a professional racecar driver and often has to leave the family for weeks at a time to enter a race. This, among other reasons, breed much animosity between Denny and his parents-in-law.
Once Eve’s brain cancer is apparent, and medical treatment has begun, she is taken home to her parents for her final months, and at her parent’s encouragement, Zoe remains with his mother and grandparents, leaving Denny and Enzo on their own. After Eve’s death, begins a downward spiral for Denny as Eve’s parents bitterly fight to retain full custody of Zoe, leaving Enzo with little to no communication or visitation rights with is own daughter. Throughout all his ordeals, Denny always has Enzo by his side, offering support and unconditional love.
Through Enzo’s eyes and hears, we see and learn more about human nature, instinct and morality. I don’t think this story would have worked as well if told through the eyes of a human narrator. There are frequent comparisons made to racing cars, and racecar drivers that highlight Denny’s personality. “Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot. The one who drives smart will always win in the end.” (p178). Scattered throughout the book, certain chapters are devoted just to Enzo’s analysis of certain racing tactics or techniques. Often times, these explanations parallel emotionally what Denny is going through with his struggles with his wife’s cancer, and his custody battles with his in-laws. Denny and Enzo constantly watch tapes of Denny’s races, learning from mistakes with Denny constantly explaining the mental endurance of a driver. This endurance, this ability to predict your opponents moves, to see one lap ahead helps Denny with his custody battle against his in-laws.
Since the story is told through Enzo’s side, we see only glimpses of human communication and with Enzo’s keen sense, we see humans for what they really are. A dog’s natural instinct is far more advanced than humans. Dogs can read people better, I think. They are more attuned to unspoken emotions and are aware of an unbalanced and unhealthy environment.
This is one book that I could not set aside. The story is smooth, the characters are either lovable, or deplorable, and Enzo is an amazing narrator, making references and connections to pop-culture, making astute philosophical and psychological assessments of the humans around him. The book is endearing because of the detachment from human emotion. We see things in a black and white, good or bad way that dogs do. Although I checked this copy out from my library, I think I will be making a pit-stop at my local bookstore to pick up a copy of this book for my bookshelf.