The Art of Racing in the Rain

Garth Stein
Harper, 2009

To think I thought having more powerful olfactory powers would be a sensual delight. Storyteller Enzo, part lab and terrier, begins by describing a day’s worth of smells his master, Denny, brings home from a day of work, a dog’s ritual of meeting new humans and other dogs. Told from the thoughts of a dog, smells are scientific data, methodically catalogued to arrange life’s direction.

For a dog lover The Art of Racing in the Rain is a heartwarming, perhaps a tear producing story of contemporary life seen through a dog’s view. Enzo is convinced he should be human and is in line to be human in his next life. As he prepares himself for that eventuality, he thoughtfully observes the passions, excitements, disappointments, slow career gains, and family dramas of Denny. Enzo watches with reasonable objectivity and acceptance when Denny falls in love and becomes a father which brings new people and circumstances into the house.

Author Stein uses the metaphor of Denny’s career love of race car driving to understand life and human nature. What Enzo can’t experience in his dog heart without wife, children and money problems, he philosophizes with his experience and what Denny teaches him. Race car driving includes living in the moment by not having memory, possessing the car and its intention, and understanding that where the eye goes, the car goes. How these fold into the greater story of Denny’s life through illness of his wife, the care of his daughter and the facing of his in-laws is a graceful slice at life.

Enzo speaks (thinks) eloquently and simply. He is observer and student of human nature as he prepares himself for his hoped-for destiny of being a human being. If a reader does not anthropomorphize animals, the book will be a sappy unbelievable homage to dogs and a clear indication that Stein’s fans are deluded. Finding myself caught up in enjoying the fictional flight, I wish Enzo well, but I believe he would be disappointed and more confused than he thought possible if he lived a human life. The opposable thumb and re-designed tongue he envies come with a price he cannot realize.

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