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Garth Stein – The Art of Racing in the Rain

September 9, 2009

104. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008)

Read By: Christopher Evan Welch
Length: 6h 57m (336 pages)

Genre: General Fiction

Started: 24 August 2009
Finished: 25 August 2009

Where did it come from? Borrowed from a friend.
Why do I have it? All of the positive buzz finally swayed me.

Man’s best friend wants to
help, but he needs a voice… and
opposable thumbs.

Summary: Enzo, our narrator, is a dog, and he has always been part of Denny’s life. Enzo’s family is a happy one: Denny, a young, erstwhile racecar driver, truly is his best friend, and Enzo understands him better than anyone else could; Denny’s wife, Eve, has accepted Enzo and Denny’s bond; and their young daughter, Zoe, is Enzo’s constant companion and playmate. However, when Eve becomes seriously ill, Enzo’s family starts to fall apart, and Denny soon becomes embroiled in a bitter custody battle with Eve’s parents. Through it all, Enzo stands as comforter, confidant, and witness, frequently frustrated by his powerlessness but believing – thanks to the lessons learned from racing that Denny has shared with Enzo over his life, plus a native doggie optimism – that things will eventually turn out okay.

Review: I went into this book knowing very little about it other than “narrated by a dog” and “lots of other people absolutely love it.” So, while I wasn’t really expecting anything, at the same time, what I got was… not what I’d expected.

The reason why (I think) so many people love this book is clear: Enzo. He’s a fantastic narrator, very charming and sympathetic, and full of interesting insights into the canine condition. It was heartwrenching to watch him agonize about not being able to help his family, just because he lacks a voice and thumbs, and many of his insights were surprisingly profound while still being believably dog-ish. (It also probably helped that Christopher Evan Welch, who narrated the audiobook, occasionally slipped into this tone of voice that had a touch of the inflection of Dug the dog from Pixar’s Up.) Enzo didn’t quite win the honor of favorite literary dog (that crown still belongs to Einstein from Dean Koontz’s Watchers), but he was lovable enough to make me go home and dole out a few extra treats to my own furry family member.

My problem was that while Enzo was wonderful, and the book as a whole was well-written, I just didn’t particularly care about the underlying story. I have a feeling that if you stripped away Enzo’s narration and said “I’ve got a family drama about a race car driver who has to fight for custody of his daughter,” the book wouldn’t be nearly as good (and I certainly wouldn’t have picked it up based on that description). Unfortunately, that makes the “…and it’s narrated by a DOG!” half of the pitch feel a little gimmicky. I know I’ve said many times how important good characterization is, but even though Enzo’s a great character, it didn’t quite make up for the underlying plot.

First, I don’t give half a hoot about racing, cars, or car racing in general. To be fair, it’s vastly to Stein’s credit that the racing scenes and racing metaphors and racing discussion actually kept me interested instead of sending me screaming for the hills. But, after a while, they did start to wear on me, and if they hadn’t had Enzo as a filter, I probably would have given up.

Second, the actual plot of the story revolves around Denny’s custody battle for his daughter. Again, if you strip away the fact that it’s narrated by a dog, it would feel like Jodi Picoult Lite. Except that in Picoult’s books, and probably in most family drama, there’s a little bit more subtlety and areas of gray… not just the wonderful upstanding father vs. the thoroughly villainous grandparents. Given that family drama isn’t my genre of choice anyways, this one was a little too simplistic to really grab me.

So, all-in-all, not a blockbuster, and I never quite shook the gimmicky feeling, but it did keep me entertained throughout, and it did introduce me to a wonderful new literary dog. I’m clearly in the minority here – there are TONS of people who absolutely love it – but it just didn’t do as much for me as I’d hoped it would. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you love dogs, you’ll love Enzo, and this book is short enough that it’s probably worth your while, particularly if you like either racing or family dramas. If you’re a cat person, though… at your own risk. :)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews (who almost all loved it way more than I did): Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books, At Home With Books, Bermudaonion’s Weblog, The Bluestocking Society, Book Chatter and Other Stuff, Book Nook Club, Booking Mama, Books on the Brain, Care’s Online Book Club Ex Libris, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Jen’s Book Thoughts, The Literate Housewife Review, My Cozy Book Nook, A Novel Menagerie, The Novel World, Ready When You Are, C.B., Stephanie’s Written Word, Thoughts of Joy, Trish’s Reading Nook, The Written World
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature.

Cover Thoughts: Ay-yup. It’s a dog. It’s a dog that looks like Enzo. Not too much going on, otherwise.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 1:12 am

    Thanks for linking my review!

  2. September 9, 2009 4:12 am

    awww….see I was afraid of the gimmicky thing…

  3. September 9, 2009 7:35 am

    You’re cover thoughts made me laugh. Thanks for the link. I think I’m closer to your point of view than you think I am…. May be I did like it more than you did, but without it’s really all about Enzo, as you say.

  4. September 9, 2009 8:58 am

    The gimmick thing has been what’s kept me from reading it too. I often worry when an author’s got a gimmick – even if it’s a good one – that it keeps him/her from doing his/her best on the actual, you know, plot of the story. :P

  5. September 9, 2009 12:02 pm

    I did love Enzo! I have no interest in racing but the racing metaphors didn’t bother me. Thanks for the link love.

  6. September 9, 2009 3:23 pm

    I loved the dog and the racing, but the family drama was my least favorite aspect. I still liked the book a lot though. Thanks for linking to my post!

  7. September 9, 2009 3:33 pm

    Great review! I think I would agree with you totally (which is of course why I think it’s a great review!!!) :–)

  8. September 9, 2009 6:06 pm

    I really liked this book. It’s been a while, though, so I am not even sure how I would rate it anymore.

  9. September 9, 2009 6:15 pm

    Though I really enjoyed the book, I understand where you are coming from. I have no interest, really, in racing, but I loved the metaphors about racing and life. Thanks for the link!

  10. September 9, 2009 8:52 pm

    While you might not have loved it as much as I did, I think you wrote a great review. I can understand your problems with the book, and on reflection even agree with them, but I guess the fact that I love dogs made me blind to the book’s faults. :)

  11. September 9, 2009 10:01 pm

    I’m a total sap, so I cried at the end (and I don’t even like dogs). Of course, it was also election day and I was watching the news at the same time.

    I thought it was a fun read, but in retrospect, not one of my favorites for the year.

  12. September 9, 2009 10:40 pm

    I gushed about this book since I just loved it so much. For some reason, Enzo and the story of Denny just hit an emotional cord with me and I just loved it.

  13. September 10, 2009 7:06 am

    I’m sorry you didn’t love it as much as everyone else! I still plan to give it a try but maybe I should lower my expectations.

  14. September 10, 2009 9:06 am

    Sheri – My pleasure!

    Aimee – Well, as gimmicks go, it was a good one, and it worked.

    C.B. – I’m sure a graphic designer could say something more about the title font or something, but all I see is: puppy!

    Jenny – Well, I do think that a good gimmick does give an author a little leeway for the rest of the book – but not always enough. :)

    bermudaonion – I was surprised how interested I stayed in the racing metaphors, to be honest.

    Alyce – I wonder how the family drama could have been changed to make it more involving?

    rhapsody – Heh, thanks. :)

    Kailana – Did you rate it at the time? My ratings often change the further away I get from the actual reading.

    Jessica – I know my review sounds pretty negative, but I actually did enjoy listening to it, to the point where I got through the whole thing in just over 24 hours. It’s just when I stopped to think about it after the fact that I started to notice the problems I had with it.

    Trish – I haven’t heard from any cat people with their opinions on the book… I wonder if loving it is predicated on being a dog person, or if cat people would even pick it up in the first place?

    softdrink – Not to worry, if crying at the end makes one a total sap, then count me into the club. I probably should have seen that coming and NOT have been listening to the end of the audiobook while on the highway in rush-hour traffic.

    Stephanie – You’re definitely not alone! I’ve seen many more reactions like yours than like mine. :)

    Meghan – I think if you go in expecting a quick read with a fantastic dog as the narrator, and don’t put too much weight on the human half of the plot, then you’ll be fine. :)

  15. September 10, 2009 10:36 am

    Great review!
    I tried to read this one once, but I couldn’t get into it and had to bring it back to the library. I’d like to give it another try though; I usually like books narrated by animals!

  16. September 10, 2009 7:28 pm

    I really enjoyed this book, but I think you are right that it is because it is narrated by a dog. Enzo is a delightful voice, but I enjoyed the racing metaphors, etc.

  17. September 10, 2009 8:50 pm

    Yep, I’m agreeing with everyone here! I loved Enzo, thus I loved the book.

  18. September 11, 2009 5:10 pm

    Like so many others, I shy away from gimmicks but I’m going to suggest this to my book club(s).

    Thanks for a fine review.

  19. September 11, 2009 6:00 pm

    You make some very good points. I can’t disagree with them. The underlying family story was a soap opera plot. I have to admit that I do like soap operas. LOL! I had fun with this book and it did make for a great addition during my Dog Days of Summer week. Is it something that will stick with me years down the road? That’s hard to say now, but I think I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for this book. The last three pages I could have lived without, but it doesn’t sound like your issues with the novel have really anything to do with that.

    Great review!

  20. Kimberly Sullivan permalink
    October 2, 2009 10:48 pm

    I LOVED this book. I had an amazing dog who was just like a person, just like Enzo. I highly recommend this book to dog lovers, it made me cry in the beginning and end, great story, Enzo’s point of view soo real. Loved it from beginning to end.

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