Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Inspiring! Uplifting! It's the next [fill in the blank with a comparable former bestseller here]. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to run hug your dog.

When a publisher or other corporate entity sells a book this way, I cringe and read something else. And that's what I did for more than a year after the initial publication of The Art of Racing in the Rain. And then I received a reading copy to coincide with the publication of the paperback edition, and while stuck in traffic on a Friday afternoon I opened it up (I swear, traffic was at a standstill; I didn't put anybody's life in jeopardy). By the beginning of the second paragraph ("I'm old. And while I'm very capable of getting older, that's not the way I want to go out.") the tears were starting to well up.

That's right, I cried. I laughed. I ran home and hugged my dogs.

Enzo, the dog narrator of the story, is an old soul, ready to take the next step on the karmic ladder. "I am ready to become a man now, though I realize I will lose all that I have been. All of my memories, all of my experiences. I would like to take them with me into my next life--there is so much I have gone through with the Swift family--but I have little say in the matter." Preposterous? Yes, but absolutely effective. Enzo is wise beyond his age and station, and it took no time at all for this reader to shed her doubts, take the leap of faith, and simply flow with the narrative.

After the deathbed scene in the opening sequence--no spoiler alert needed; the reviewer is giving nothing away by revealing that the dog dies--the story turns to the past and tells the story of Enzo's life with the Swifts: Denny, a would-be race car driver, his wife Eve, and their daughter Zoe. It's a nicely told domestic drama, narrated by a dog and full of doggish insight into the human condition.

A blurb on the book from Sarah Cypher writing in the Portland Oregonian says that this "is one of those stories that may earn its place next to Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull," as treacly a story of self-actualization pop psychology crap as I've ever read...and loved. Yes, even recognizing its manipulative techniques and Me Generation philosophy I still loved, and love, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a better book, but equally as manipulative of the emotions; I spent the last 20 pages sobbing aloud and was deeply satisfied upon finishing. Ultimately, it's a book about the most basic and important things in life: love, family, and loyalty.


There are a slew of excellent books narrated by dogs (really!).  Dog on It is the first of Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie mysteries (review here). Chet, the dog--he always rides shotgun, and is in charge of any job that requires a superior sense of smell--tells the story...although sometimes bits of it go missing, when he just has to dig in the back yard or chase a coyote.  Merrill Markoe has written several books featuring dogs.  Nose Down, Eyes Up is about Gil Winowicsz, handyman and musician, who realizes one day that he can understand his dogs because they are literally talking to each other (and to him, when they discover he can understand them).  A hilarious and touching book (review here).

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach.  Treacly New Age drivel, yes, but immensely moving to some (like me) as well.  Notable as being probably the first real novel of the New Age/Me Generation.  (And, if you want to do a little legwork to find a hilarious antidote to JLS, look for Ludwig von Wolfgang Vulture by Dolph Sharp.  A spot-on roll-on-the-floor-laughing parody of it (review here).

Disclosure: In accordance with new FTC guidelines for bloggers I must let you know that I received a free review copy of this title.  My reviews are just that: reviews.  They are not endorsements, nor am I ever compensated for posting my opinion.  .

1 comment:

Steve D said...

Garth is a standup guy and a great writer. He even gave me a great blurb for my upcoming memoir, Last Dog On The Hill (St. Martin's June 2010).