The Art of Racing in the Rain; A Novel, by Garth Stein – review by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Art of Racing in the Rain; A Novel, by Garth Stein
NYC, HarperCollinsPublishers/Harper, May 2008, hardcover $23.95 (321 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $9.99.
“Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And when I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences. And that’s why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home – he should be here soon – lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.” (p. 1)
The narrator is Enzo, a mixed-breed retriever, the pet dog of Denny Swift, a human retired racecar driver. Enzo is dying of canine old age, but he is looking forward eagerly to his death. He has educated himself by watching television with Denny, and has accepted a documentary on Mongolian belief in reincarnation as reality. He believes that when he dies as a dog, he will be reborn as a human and will become Denny’s best friend.
The novel is Enzo’s autobiography.
“I remember the heat on the day I left the farm. Every day was hot in Spangle, and I thought the world was just a hot place because I never knew what cold was about. I had never seen rain, didn’t know much about water. Water was the stuff in the buckets that the older dogs drank, and it was the stuff the alpha man sprayed out of the hose and into the faces of dogs who might want to pick a fight. But the day Denny arrived was exceptionally hot. My littermates and I were tussling around like we always did, and a hand reached into the pile and found my scruff and suddenly I was dangling high in the air.
‘This one,’ a man said.” (p. 11)
Denny and Enzo have always watched the television together. At first it was videos associated with Denny’s auto racing, and Denny provided a running commentary for Enzo. One of the first things Enzo learned was where this title is from.
“‘Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals,’ Denny always says, ‘and you don’t want to break them. That’s how you drive in the rain.’” (p. 13)
The novel is a rambling mixture of Enzo’s thoughts about what he sees on TV with Denny, his philosophies, and the years of Denny’s marriage and his having a daughter. Enzo is jealous of thumbs:
“The platypus is horribly stupid, but is only slightly dumber than a monkey. Yet monkeys have thumbs. These monkey-thumbs were meant for dogs. Give me my thumbs, you fucking monkeys!” (p. 17)
When Denny meets Eve and marries her, Enzo doesn’t resent her as much for coming between the two of them as he’s jealous because she has thumbs.
Denny always leaves the TV on for Enzo to watch while he’s out racing. The TV is usually on the Speed Channel.
“The classic races are the best, and I especially like Formula One. I like NASCAR, too, but I prefer it when they race on the road circuits. While racing is my favorite, Denny told me it was good for me to have variety in my life, so he often puts on other channels, which I enjoy very much as well.” (pgs. 17-18)
Enzo rambles about his life with Denny, and Eve, and later their daughter Zoë, interrupted by his obsession on monkeys and thumbs and the superiority of canines; seeing them through a dog’s perspective:
“Case-in-Pont #2: The Werewolf.
The full moon rises. The fog clings to the lowest branches of the spruce trees. The man steps out of the darkest corner of the forest and finds himself transformed into …
I think not.” (p. 20)
The reader sees them through a human’s eyes. When Denny gets the chance to race at Daytona, in the 24 Hours of Daytona which he has spent a year lobbying in the racing world for, he and Enzo are ecstatic. But it’s just when Zoë is born. Eve is happy for him, but she can’t help resenting that he puts his racing ahead of his daughter.
Denny’s situation is worsened by Eve’s parents, Maxwell and Trish, who move into their home to help Eve while Denny is away. Their help becomes an active dominance over their daughter and granddaughter; always badmouthing Denny for caring more for his racing than for his family. Enzo thinks of them as the Twins because they are so much alike in their appearance and their nagging.
“From the moment they arrived, the Twins had been admonishing Eve for having her baby at home. They told her she was endangering her baby’s welfare and that in these modern times, it was irresponsible to give birth anywhere but in the most prestigious of all hospitals with the most expensive of all doctors.” (p. 27)
Eve stands up to them, and for the first few years of Zoë’s life they are happy. Denny stays home as much as he can, and Enzo takes his role as Zoë’s protector and big brother seriously. Denny and Eve move from an apartment to a house to give Zoë a real home, and Enzo has a grassy yard to run around in. But Enzo, having a dog’s senses, is the first to know when Eve develops cancer.
Eve’s long bout with cancer ruins their lives. Denny can’t afford to race any more. And as soon as Eve dies, Maxwell and Trish go to court for custody of Zoë on the grounds that Denny can’t raise her by himself. That he’s not fit to raise a child. That he shouldn’t be allowed to see her.
The Art of Racing in the Rain (cover by Archie Ferguson) is a melodramatic soap opera as seen by a dog. It’s funny in places, and a real tearjerker in others. Enzo’s constant description of everything in a mixture of a canine viewpoint and in racing car terms keeps your interest. This is not a furry novel, but it is of interest to furry fans.
Garth Stein has written, not a sequel, but a series of young children’s picture books about Enzo: Enzo Races in the Rain!, Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt, Enzo’s Very Scary Halloween, and Enzo and the Fourth of July Races. It’s also worth noting that the adult novel is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle; and that each cover shows another view of Enzo. A 2010 paperback edition has an amusing different cover.