Chances are this novel’s target audience has not read a book from a dog’s point of view since the children’s classic, The Poky Little Puppy, or Eric Hill’s Spot the Dog series. Nonetheless, The Art of Racing in the Rain is beautifully written, moving, funny and surprisingly philosophical, and its appeal is not limited to dog-lovers. Garth Stein has crafted an exquisite story with an endlessly charming narrator, and provides a deeply affecting look into the mind of a dog with a human soul.
Enzo, an elder dog awaiting the end of his days, lives in Seattle with his beloved owner, Denny Swift, a mechanic and racecar driver, and relates stories of the Swift family’s trials and tribulations over the years. From his adoption as a puppy to Denny’s marriage, the birth of his daughter, his wife’s illness, the tragedy and hardships that follow, and all the racetrack happenings in between, Enzo narrates with the wisdom of a wordless observer, with humanlike clarity and perception, even while bound by basic canine needs. Believing he will someday be reincarnated as a man, Enzo makes it a priority to observe human behavior and gain knowledge to carry with him to his next life.
Stein often uses the racetrack as a metaphorical representation of life itself, as Enzo shares Denny’s passion for racecars and often compares the Swift family’s dysfunction to the challenges faced while racing under trying circumstances. In addition to the mind of a dog, readers get an inside look into the mind and mentality of a racer and the balance they must achieve between stability and the need for speed.
Enzo’s personality adds a whimsical quality to the narration. He’s part crotchety elder, part adventurous youth; both a sworn protector of his family and a dependent house pet; a dog who prides himself on being well-behaved and civilized, yet possesses animal instincts that sometimes drive him to disobedience. His frustration at being unable to speak to humans is palpable, though he assures himself that he compensates by being a good listener. Added for comic relief is his longing for opposable thumbs.
Heartrending yet ultimately uplifting, The Art of Racing in the Rain captivates with its painfully accurate portrait of the joys, tragedies and absurdities of human life, and its meditation on what it means to be human, all shown through the eyes of a winning protagonist. Also by Garth Stein is Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog, a children’s adaptation of the story, which younger readers will certainly enjoy.