Garth Stein – The Art of Racing in the Rain
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
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. :)
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.