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[145] The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

I laid my head on his leg and looked up at him.
“Sometimes I think you actually understand me,” he said.
“It’s like there’s a person inside there. Like you know everything.”
I do, I said to myself. I do. [61]

An outsider always sees it all and sees it through. This outside is most unusual because it is a canine named Enzo. Even though gestures are all this yellow lab has because his “tongue was designed long and flat” so he has no words to rely on, Enzo is different from other dogs. He is a philosopher with a nearly human soul: He educates himself by watching TV extensively, and listens very closely to his master’s words. He can read people’s mind, decipher motives, assign meaning to silence. True, he is not just another dog that looks for crumbs under the table when the master is eating.

“So much of the language is unspoken. So much of the language is comprised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.” [119]

I might have given a dog too much credit if I laud on his disputable capacity to read human mind. But Enzo’s emotional attachment and loyalty to Denny Swift is never to be questioned. His initial jealously of Eve, who has got in between him and Denny, and who has moved into the house with a preemptive sense of authorship, quickly mitigates as he smells the disease in her brain long before she is stricken by it. Out of fear, or concern, or both, Enzo warms to her and stays with her, acting on behalf of Denny to give her courage.

“I had always wanted to love Eve as Denny loved her, but I never had because I was afraid. She was my rain. She was my unpredictable element. She was my fear.” [44]

“I wasn’t sure when Eve wanted him around, but I understood why she wanted Denny to go. She wanted him to remember as she used to be, not as she currently was.” [123]

And this steers closer to what the title encapsulates: (car) racing in the rain, expecting the unexpected, owning up and not giving up. Enzo stays by Denny during the series of trials that threaten to rend his life apart. After Eve suddenly dies of brain cancer, the in-laws (whom the canine calls twins, later Evil Twins) attack him mercilessly in order to gain custody of his six-years-old daughter. They viciously exploit allegations of sexual molestation against him in order to prevent him from having any contact with the girl because sex offender is deprived of right to custody. Like Denny’s semiprofessional car racing career, the legal battle is about enduring. The in-laws’ goal is to break his will for their own smug.

In this heart-wrenching but also funny narrative, as the old canine, down to his last days of his lifetime as a dog, takes stock of his life (with much dignity and honor), I’m once again assured that dogs are really men’s best friends. They might not be able to speak and communicate, but they are certainly aware of our gestures and vibes. Like Mark Doty has said in Dog Years:

“No dog has ever said a word, but that doesn’t mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term—biscuit, walk—and an inflection they know. What a stream of incomprehensible signs passes over them as they wait, patiently, for one of a few familiar words!”

The way the canine narrates is awesome—the narrative tease, the ratcheting up of anticipation as he matter-of-factly recalls his life with the Swift family. I have a feeling that if dogs—smart dogs, who are about to come back as men—like Enzo has believed, could talk, this is what they would sound like. Now I look at my lab and wonder what he sees and thinks.

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24 Responses

  1. Everything I’ve read about this book makes me want to read it more. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  2. This sounds like a great read. thanks for letting us know about it.

  3. Sounds like a very interesting read – definitely one for the wish list! I’ve always thought that dogs understand more than we give them credit for. Thanks for the great review!

  4. Jessica:
    It was an impulse buy for me. Has it not been the lab on the cover jacket, I might not have picked it up! I’m glad I did! 🙂

  5. Isabel:
    It’s a page-turner. I couldn’t stop but at the same time I ration so the book won’t end so soon. 🙂

  6. Megan:
    I quickly warm to the story because I have a lab myself. I always wonder if George actually understands me when I’m talking to him. 🙂

  7. A great review! The canine sounds very cute, understanding and perspicacious. I’ll have to put this one my list as well.

  8. Our library blog just posted a great list of what Garth Stein is reading right now, and a special guest list from Enzo!

  9. John:
    You’ll go through this one like a breeze. It’s very cute but thoughtful. 🙂

    Shelf Talk:
    Thanks so much for the link! Oh my, I like Enzo’s books. he’s soooo cute.

  10. I had to come and read your review. Great Job! This is one of my all time favorite books. Thanks for visiting my blog. I’ll make yours a frequent stop. 🙂

  11. Lisa:
    Thanks. The loveliness of the book is contagious. I’ve got few of my friends reading it. 🙂

  12. Matthew, thanks for posting the review. I’ve been on the fence about picking this book up, but the amount of great reviews I’m finding online is changing that. I saw the trailer for it on bookscreening, but like a lot book trailers, it was a let done.

    It looks like I’ll have to move “Racing” from my wishlist to the cart. 🙂

    – Eric

  13. Eric:
    It’s a quick and great read. I’m completely engrossed. I know I can be biased since I’m a dog owner.

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  18. This sounds like a book I am going to have to read. Unfortunately my lab I am sure is the reincarnation of Marley, not the sensitive and intelligent Enzo.

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