by, Garth Stein
2008 by Harper
A first-person protagonist in a novel is nothing new. It is a widely used method of storytelling. However, Garth Stein’s protagonist in his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain is unusual. He’s unusual because he can’t talk. He’s unusual because – well – he’s a dog.
“Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively….And that’s why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home – he should be here soon – lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.”
The Art of Racing in the Rain chronicles the life of Enzo – a dog of indeterminate lineage – and his life with his master Denny, an aspiring professional race car driver. Part companion, part guardian, part philosopher, we learn Enzo’s unique view of himself, the humans around him and expectations of his future life. We also learn of his unfailing love of racing.
As much as the story is told by Enzo, the tumultuous life of Denny is the real heart of the story. Enzo’s unique perspective allows for many interesting insights into the human condition, but it also limits the view of the lives of Denny and his family. In spite of this, Stein demonstrates his writing talent by relating much of what Enzo misses quite elegantly without it seeming contrived. His storytelling is effective and very efficient - moving things along quickly. There are a couple of occasions when Stein gets carried away and shoehorns a bit too much race car history into the story, sometimes to the point that it becomes distracting. However, this is a minor hiccup in an otherwise enjoyable story about what life from a dog’s eyes might look like. Denny’s life is so full of highs and lows that none of the reader’s emotions are left unused. There are plenty of opportunities to laugh, cry and of course growl.
My only other complaint is I wish there had been more. Normally leaving the reader wanting a little more is a good thing, but in this case I felt at times like I missed a little too much of Enzo’s life. In spite of this, I really enjoyed The Art of Racing in the Rain.
I do have one cautionary warning to parents. While this tale of a dog and his master might seem like great reading for children, Stein does not hold back with both adult language and adult situations. You might want to read it first to make sure it is something your children are mature enough to handle.
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