Friday, March 18, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)

By Emily Zilm

I haven’t read a book narrated by an animal since I was in grade school. Yes, it was The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Classic. The Art of Racing in the Rain is also told from a dog’s perspective, but it’s for grown ups. This one is less like an adorable animated film and a little more like Air Bud got together with a Nicholas Sparks novel and made a baby, though.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein follows Enzo the dog’s perception of the life of his owner, Denny,  a husband, father and aspiring race car driver. Once I got past all the mental pictures of a dog with a CGI mouth that speaks to humans who can’t hear him, there was a rather cliche but decently crafted story under there about struggle and not giving up.

Denny works at an upscale auto shop and dreams of getting a seat driving in a Formula One race and finishing first. He has a young daughter, Zoe, and a wife, Eve, whose parents think he’s not a good enough husband or father. When Eve is diagnosed with brain cancer (Enzo smelled it long before, as dogs do), a string of seemingly overwhelming obstacles threatens to forever block his road to success. I won’t tell you how the whole scenario unfolds, but it’s all pretty predictable as each point of conflict is heavily foreshadowed. Stein doesn’t seem to be one for surprising readers, so do not prepare to have your mind blown.

In general, I wasn’t sold on the idea of a dog narrating this book from the start, and at times it seemed contrived and gimmicky. However, if the lovable Enzo weren’t telling the story this would probably be just another so-so novel about a guy having a hard time in his life. Enzo’s voice added a certain charming quality to the story and it’s delivery. It also provided opportunities for clarity, impartiality, or humor in places that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. However, I would have liked to see Stein really hone in on Enzo’s role as storyteller to convey the meaning and emotion behind the plot. Enzo just seemed too human. He even remarks throughout the entire book about his desire to be human and expresses feelings of resentment about not being able to help people in the ways they help each other. This does ultimately have a purpose in regards to the plot, yet it seemed as though Stein missed opportunities to really use Enzo’s voice as a lens through which the reader could view the story from a truly different perspective. Despite my underwhelmed attitude towards the book as a whole, there were instances in which Enzo’s inability to control his actions did make me laugh, and his raw emotions made me truly angry or sad alongside the other characters.  

The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein

Style - 4.3 
It was really hard for me to get past the cheesy aspects of the dog narration, but I eventually did. Most books like this usually fall clearly on one side of the line between smart and lame, most on the latter side, but this one manages to straddle it. It had all the cliche aspects that I expected, but at most times where I was sure I’d find a shortcoming or hole in the story, I didn’t. And despite the heavy foreshadowing and all of the repetition of  inspirational race car driving metaphors, Stein managed to maintain a nice flow. It was an easy read with little thought required of the reader. Also, I do most of my reading during my hour-plus-each-way daily commute on the bus and train with multiple transfers, so I really appreciated that all the chapters were short.

Story - 4.0 
This book does not have the most complex or original story, and it’s easy to anticipate what comes next. Sure there are a lot of cliche elements that can get irritating, but what I like about this story is that it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s the kind of story you can read with your brain on autopilot and not miss anything because there are no deeper layers.

General - 4.0
Overall it’s a really lighthearted, yet serious and emotional story about a man, his dog,  his family, his career, and his struggle to balance his love for each while keeping his head up in the face of hardship. If you’re looking for a great, earth-shattering masterpiece then you should keep looking. But if you’re in the mood for a really quick, relaxing read, then you might consider The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s like one of those movies you flick on during a Sunday afternoon because you don’t have to think too much about it. Reading it won’t change your life, but it passes the time.

Overall - 4.1

1 comment:

  1. I am not a dog lover but absolutely loved this book, written from a dog's perspective. It had strong characters, strong family feelings, romance, adventure, and philosophy -all of it was with a light comical undertone.


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