The Art of Racing in the Rain Review

art-of-racing-in-the-rainEnzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pull every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

(Summary via Goodreads.com)

Two things about this novel started me off on slippery foothold:

1.  I don’t watch movies or read books about dogs.  99 times out of 100 the dog usually dies, and it causes me unnecessary heartbreak.  This same principal usually applies to Disney movies about animals; I’m built up throuhout the movie to connect with a fuzzy-faced creature and then BAM!  He’s thrown off a gorge or he gets separated from his mother and can only be comforted by her through bars on a swinging elephant trunk.

2.  A colleague of mine told me that this novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was better than The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  HUGE expectations here.  Massive.

While I really enjoyed the way that Stein used race car driving as a metaphor for life, I wasn’t all that impressed.  I don’t like NASCAR or Formula 1, or going much more than 5 mph over the speed limit, so I thought it was an intriguing approach.  I was like a blank slate, which is what I envision most authors crave in their readers; leave the preconceived notions at the book cover.

I applaud the attempt of using a dog as the narrator, but I didn’t think that it was pulled off in quite the way I was expecting.  Enzo is a dog, and while the majority of the novel’s conflict surrounds Denny, his daughter Zoe, and his in-law’s attempt to gain full custody, the majority of the key events were not even witnessed by our narrator.  I can’t buy into a dog being able to empathize with all the scenarios that Enzo and Denny went through together.  Despite that, it was an earnest effort, and I was mildly entertained throughout.  I especially enjoyed how Enzo would take out his frustrations on his best friend’s in-laws; revenge is a dish best served with pepperoncini peppers apparently.

The actual storyline was fairly surface and predictable.  I do like the writing style of Stein, and I may consider picking up another novel penned by him.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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