The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein follows the narrator, Enzo, and incredibly intelligent, observant and philosophical dog, as he contemplates his life on his deathbed.
The small family Enzo is part of is comprised of Denny, Eve, Denny’s wife and their daughter Zoë. At the beginning of the book he is lying on the floor, dying. He is an old dog and while he is waiting for Denny to come home and find him. It is incredibly sad, but also in an odd way happy, because Enzo is excited to die so doesn’t have to feel pain and so he can be reincarnated as a man. After Denny comes home, Enzo reviews his entire life, starting with when he was a puppy. While most of the book is rather depressing, there ares some brief moments of humor and happiness.
The perspective from which the novel is written from is fascinating. The reader gets to see the life of a human through the eyes of a dog. The unique perspective also allows Enzo to show his view on life. It is a first person narrative, so the reader can see the thoughts and desires of this clever dog.
The opening lines are especially powerful. Enzo starts by saying, “Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while 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” (Stein 1). Even though he is a dog, Enzo believes that, “[his] soul is very human” (3). So, when Enzo starts the book saying that he can only communicate with grand gestures, Enzo is not only referring to himself, but to all humans as well. This conveys how all humans are constantly fighting to be heard and recognized in their lives. In order to stand out and be heard, they must be “melodramatic” and do something “grand in nature.”
Much of this book is made up of metaphors and symbols, and is full of ideas with double meanings. One of the main metaphors that exists throughout the book is the metaphor of racing. Denny is a semi-professional race car driver and always tells Enzo about “racing in the rain.” However when Denny talks about “racing in the rain” he is talking about the rain both metaphorically and literally. Driving in the rain can be difficult, and I think that “racing in the rain” is a metaphor for persevering through difficulties.
As I stated before, Enzo is very philosophical, intellectual and observant. It is his intellect and his observant nature (and also the help of “[his] little black nose that is leathery and cute” [39-40]) that helps him identify something in Eve’s brain that would have a profound impact on the lives of the Swift family. This moment is a good example of the foreshadowing present in the book, but it also shows how Enzo is limited in ways he can express himself. Because he lacks a “facile tongue” (40), Enzo is unable to tell anyone about Eve’s condition and as a result, her predicament worsens.
Despite all of the tragedy already introduced a third of the way through the novel, Enzo still finds ways to brighten the scene with his humor. One of my favorite examples of Enzo’s humor is when he is describing why dogs are closer related to humans than monkeys. He insults monkeys and then to prove his reasoning he says, “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…
A monkey?
I think not” (21).
The chapter ends there and I found Enzo’s dry humor combined by the sudden ending of the chapter hilarious.
This book is similar to A Dog’s Purpose, one of my favorite books. Both books are told from a dog’s perspective as he studies his purpose in life. They also have ideas of reincarnation in them. So far I have really enjoyed this book and hope to continue to discover more about this fascinating and tragic story.

 

 

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6 responses to “The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

  1. Cassie Chan

    As Ashley stated, Enzo is the narrator of “The Art of Racing in the Rain”. The uniqueness of this book is that it is from the perspective of a dog, a perspective that has not been thoroughly explored in novels for our-aged readers. Usually reading from animal perspectives stops at around age 10, but it is refreshing to have a story told again from the eyes of an animal that is constantly seen in most people’s lives. Since I have grown up with dogs, I’ve seen all of their adorable, estranged, and endearing acts, but I have never really thought about how or if a dog can make a connection from their actions to our emotions.
    The natural voice Garth Stein gives Enzo is quite startling (in the best way) because Enzo discusses topics you would never really stop to think of on your own. Before he recounts his life story, Enzo explains himself on his deathbed as trying “to imprint what I know on my soul, a thing that has no surface, no sides, no pages, no form of any kind. Carry it so deeply in the pockets of my existence that when I open my eyes and look down at my new hands with their thumbs that are able to close tightly around their fingers, I will already know. I will already see” (3). Enzo, who heavily believes in reincarnation, has his mind set on being a human in his next life. However, no one knows what is beyond death so his solution is to imprint. But how can he imprint on something so unfathomable? Something so invisible but present in each and every one of us? This part really got me thinking about death, What will be at the end for us? But if I were to wonder too much about that, I’d be going down a rabbit hole. Luckily, Enzo gives his answers in a happier and more humorous light as he offers the idea of reincarnation.
    Besides the focus on “beyond death” questions, another constant theme is racing. While reading all the references and mentions of Denny’s racing career, the idea that “racing in the rain” was a metaphor also occurred to me as it did Ashley. One quote of Denny’s racing talks with Enzo that stood out to me was, “‘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’” (13). While pushing onwards through life’s devastations and maintaining control was one meaning I understood of the metaphor, I thought that the simile of eggshells to racing was quite contrasting because eggshells are such fragile objects while racing is seen as dangerous and high paced with nothing gentle about it. But as Denny said it was about being gentle, to me, it almost meant that one wrong move and you could crush the eggshells, destroying something delicate that was once whole.
    One of the greatest things we take for granted is most definitely our exclusive anatomy. We can move freely, grasp objects with our thumbs, and we can even form words and sounds with our tongue. How truly bizarre we are and we often forget it! However, Enzo picks up greatly on this huge advantage we have and can recognize at how much of a disadvantage he is at as he at one time points out how he is without a “facile tongue” and lacks this ability to form words. When Eve is woken in the early morning my a splitting pain in her brain, Enzo explains, “That’s what I found so frustrating about it; I had an answer. I knew what was wrong, but I had no way to tell her” (47). The emphasis Enzo places on having speaking abilities is something we all have wondered about. What is the dog thinking? But to be the dog and be ready to share the information but lack the capability strongly conveys Enzo’s sense of helplessness only increasing the urgent need for a working tongue.
    So far the novel has been filled with foreshadowing that I’m excited to read deeper into. I’ve found it very interesting how a new perspective can make me think more about the life that surrounds us and, If only we could all communicate on a universal language, would another species hold the answers to questions we didn’t even know to ask? I can’t wait to be further enlightened by Enzo’s realizations and ponderings on the fruitfulness in life and the peace in death through his philosophical views.

  2. juliayazhari

    So far I have greatly enjoyed The Art of Racing in the Rain, despite its sometimes somber themes. As Ashley and Cassie both stated, Enzo truly is a unique and enjoyable narrator. Garth Stein expertly creates a voice that is at times incredibly human-like and at others clearly animal in nature. As I read this first third of the book, I sometimes became so engrossed in Enzo’s thoughts that I almost forgot that I was reading from a dog’s point-of-view.

    Garth Stein does a skillful job of blending Enzo’s more animal-like emotions with his human-like ones. One part I found especially interesting was when Enzo describes how he must work hard to retain his human qualities:

    Myself, I have found ways around the madness. I work at my human gait, for instance. I practice chewing my food slowly like people do. I study the television for clues on behavior and to learn how to react in certain situations. In my next life, when I am born again as a person, I will practically be an adult the moment I am plucked from the womb, with all the preparation I have done. It will be all I can do to wait for my new human body to mature to adulthood so I may excel at all the athletic and intellectual pursuits I hope to enjoy. (64)

    Here, Enzo references “the madness” that some dogs get after spending so many years confined to a human household. Their inability to voice their thoughts with the “facile tongue” that Cassie mentioned eventually drives them to insanity. Stein highlights the difference between Enzo and these dogs by revealing how Enzo carefully practices human habits: “chewing [his] food slowly like people do” and studying television “for clues on behavior.”

    Not only is Enzo different from other dogs, but he believes that he will be a jewel among humans as well once he is reincarnated as a man. The way he talks about being ready to “excel at all the athletic and intellectual pursuits [he hopes] to enjoy” was very intriguing to me. As humans, I feel that we can take for granted the joy that comes with simply living and being free to enjoy these pursuits. We get so caught up in our lives that we sometimes forget that we are capable of doing amazing and advanced things that other species are not, like mastering different languages, learning advanced mathematical equations, or creating exquisite art.

    Ashely and Cassie both mentioned one of the other big aspects of this book: racing. This is Denny’s main passion, and it is a passion of Enzo’s as well. According to Enzo, “Denny avoided the madness of his personal sound-booth hell by driving through it. There was nothing he could do to make Eve’s distress go away, and once he realized that, he made a commitment to do everything else better.” (64)

    Enzo once again refers to “the madness” of being unable to voice one’s thoughts, using the evocative image of a “sound-booth hell”. This small paragraph perfectly summarizes Denny’s love for racing and how it is his escape from the world. This is both helpful and unhelpful at times, bringing Denny happiness, but also drawing him away from his family.

    The way Stein describes Denny’s racing is so detailed and passionate that when I read it, I find myself fully engrossed. It takes a very good writer to get his reader to understand the joy of something like racing—an activity that I personally know close to nothing about. Like Ashely and Cassie said, Stein connects it to our lives in a way that makes the “art of racing” seem personal and relatable. At one point, for instance, Enzo relates the problems that arise while racing to problems that may arise in everyday life:

    Often things happen to race cars in the heat of the race. A square-toothed gear in a transmission may break, suddenly leaving the driver without all of his gears. Or perhaps a clutch fails. Brakes go soft from overheating. Suspensions break… The great drivers drive through the problem… To be able to possess a machine in such a way is the ultimate show of determination and awareness. It makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible. (64-65)

    I loved the way Enzo articulated this particular theme of tribulations in life, saying that “the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak.” It is a truly inspiring message, showing that if we fight hard, we can overcome the greatest difficulties.

    Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed this first part of The Art of Racing in the Rain. The writing is comprehensible and full of emotion, and the characters are very relatable. I look forward to seeing what happens next!

  3. Anastasia Rozanova

    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

    The Art of Racing in the Rain is a book about a dog named Enzo and his family. Surprisingly, it’s narrated by the dog, who is a very philosophical soul. Never thought I’d be reading a book coming from this point of view. I felt quite humbled by Enzo, who, without a doubt, is much more intelligent than many of the humans I know. Perhaps I should take my own dog more seriously now- I guess you never know what’s behind those puppy-dog eyes. Though I did read some article on dogs’ brains and so far it shows that they probably have the comprehension of a 3-5 year old.

    Anyways, the book starts out with Enzo lamenting on how he wasn’t born a human and preparing for his death. After he announces that he has a plan to die he describes his childhood (puppyhood?) and starts summarizing how it was like living with his owner’s (who’s name is Denny) family before his wife, Eve, died.

    The book is also largely focused on Denny’s passion towards race car driving. Enzo is also very interested in the world of racing, and spends a large part of his time watching racing videos on tv. I do like reading the parts about racing as I myself don’t know anything about the sport.

    As Ashley stated before, it’s interesting reading from Enzo’s point of view as he notices and thinks about things that most people don’t. Like how he talked for paragraphs about the crows he saw out in the backyard or how he imagined that Zoe’s (Denny’s daughter) stuffed zebra started attacking the other stuffed animals and then killed itself. This strange vision probably has some metaphorical meaning that I don’t quite understand. Maybe it symbolizes the sickness growing inside Eve’s head, killing her. Maybe it’s foreshadowing something, I don’t know. There is lots of other symbolism going on in this book- most of which I don’t pick up on-and probably more foreshadowing that will become more apparent towards the end of the book. Maybe after I finish this book I’ll suddenly realize “Aha!” what the crows and zebra symbolized exactly.

    I really am enjoying this book so far and so far would definitely recommend it to a friend.
    Now I’ve got to go read what happens next!

  4. juliayazhari

    As I have continued The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein, I have come to enjoy it even more. The plot quickly picks up pace in the next third of the story: Eve dies of sickness, her parents blame Denny, and Denny is sued by them for custody of his daughter Zoe.

    At one point, while Eve is still alive but slowly dying, Denny and Enzo go to stay in a cabin the mountains with some of Eve’s relatives. While there, a girl named Annika falls for him, and I was very surprised when she made a move on him. Denny, of course, pushes her away, and I thought this strange scene would end here. Indeed, Stein masterfully kept quiet about it for several chapters, until he finally brought it back up when Denny is arrested for alleged rape of a minor, right after he has been sued by Eve’s parents.

    I was once again amazed by some of Enzo’s very deep insights into what is happening around him. When Denny is waiting alone in the police office, Enzo says,

    Did he finally realize what it is like to be me, to be a dog? Did he understand as those interminable minutes ticked by, that being alone is not the same as being lonely? That being alone is a neutral state… Could Denny have possibly appreciated the subjective nature of loneliness, which is something that exists only in the mind, not in the world, and, like a virus, is unable to survive without a willing host? (198)

    Not only is Enzo’s vocabulary remarkable, but he manages to expertly explain the heavy concept of loneliness. I have often, myself, pondered over the difference between being alone and being lonely–like how it is possible to feel lonely when surrounded by people–and I was intrigued by the way Enzo describes loneliness as “a virus… unable to survive without a willing host”. It brings up the concept of free will and whether a person has control over his own destiny–an idea that Enzo often brings up.

    Stein often counteracts the heavier moments of the book with lighter ones. Later, while staying with Eve’s parents who are taking care of Zoe, Enzo becomes very angry and decides to do something rather naughty: “I thought about how [Eve’s parents] were grossly inferior guardians for my Zoe. I crouched in my stance right there, inside the house, and–” (232)

    At this point Enzo uses some inappropriate language, so I will stop myself there. Suffice it to say that he decides to relieve himself all over the grandparents’ nice carpet. Moments like these made me enjoy the story even more, and I grew closer with Enzo because of his sense of humor and incredible audacity.

    Stein is a fantastic writer, and with Enzo, he has created a very unique and lovable narrator. I think I may have enjoyed this second part of the novel even better than the first, and I look forward to finishing the rest up soon!

  5. ashleyamccann

    As the novel progresses, I have found myself growing more intrigued by the plot. As Julia said, the plot definitely escalated quickly. Garth Stein drags his readers on an emotional voyage enhanced by the perspective that Enzo provides.
    This third of the book quickly tells the story of Eve’s diagnosis the months leading up to her death, but glosses over most of the details because the reader knows only as much as Enzo does. Enzo’s perspective is limited, as he is a dog and cannot be with Denny the all of the time, therefore the reader’s perspective is limited as well.
    This lack of information comes into play again when Denny is charged with “rape of a child in the third degree” (216). Much of the three years that the trial takes is not witnessed by Enzo. The majority of what Enzo says about this time was “[reconstructed] based on information compiled by [him] from secondhand knowledge, overheard conversations, and established legal practices [he has] gleaned from various television shows, most especially the Law & Order series and all of it’s spin-offs, Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent and the much maligned Trial by Jury” (217).
    The allegation of rape is part of the Evil Twin’s (Enzo’s nickname for Zoe’s maternal grandparents) plan to help them win the custody battle for Zoe. It is also interesting to note that earlier in this third of the book Enzo foreshadowed that the Twins were plotting something sinister, once again showcasing his observant nature.
    The entire chapter when Denny was arrested for rape was horrible and heartbreaking. The first time I read it I was completely shocked. There were not really any hints from Stein to indicate that Annika would come back in such a terrible fashion, which made the scene all the more dramatic. The only clue Stein gave was in the scene where Annika “took advantage of him [Denny]” (159). Denny acts panicked when Annika calls her father, suspecting that she may have twisted the story to make it seem that she had been taken advantage of. However she didn’t which was what at first made me think that Annika was an unimportant character. It is in this scene that Stein lays the groundwork for the rape allegation custody lawsuit that lasted almost three years of Enzo and Denny’s lives. Those years were filled with darkness, despair and sorrow for Denny, Enzo and Zoe.
    As Julia mentioned, Garth Stein contrasts the many dark scenes with a few light-hearted ones. This is similar to the dramatic irony that Shakespeare uses in Romeo and Juliet. One of my favorite examples of this is when Denny took Enzo racing right after the scene with Annika. Stein’s vivid imagery allows the reader to almost feel Enzo’s excitement of racing. While on the track, Enzo says, “Yes, one more lap. One more lap. Forever, one more lap. I live my life for one more lap. I give my life for one more lap! Please, God, please give me one more lap!” (172). Previously I mentioned how I thought that racing was a metaphor for life. Throughout life, people typically wish to have more time than they have. This idea is demonstrated through the way is begging to have one more lap. “One more lap” equates to more time on the track, and following the idea that racing is a metaphor for life, Enzo is asking for more time. The repetition of “one more lap” makes this thought especially powerful or perhaps even desperate. Once again, Enzo’s philosophical nature shines through. In this spot I think it is especially interesting to remember that this story is told from Enzo’s perspective as he lies on his deathbed. These lines cause me to wonder if Enzo is asking for more time on the eve of his death or if he asked for more time in the moment he was reminiscing.
    Although this novel is filled with tragedy and sorrow, I have immensely enjoyed it because of the way Stein’s writing style has a way of making the reader feel emotionally engaged in the story.

  6. Cassie Chan

    While Stein’s novel has grown much more interesting with each new chapter, it is also growing increasingly darker and complex. As previously summed up by Julia and Ashley, Eve is only growing sicker, Zoe is in the middle of a custody battle between her father and grandparents, and Enzo is still telling the whole story from his deathbed. This last fact, Enzo recounting his life’s events while dying, is often forgotten by me, but still, it seems to hold an overall importance by the way in which Enzo explains certain events. At one point in the story, Denny has to attend many court cases in which Enzo is not invited to. Without all the facts to fill in certain holes in the story, Enzo states, “My intent, here, is to tell our story in a dramatically truthful way. While the facts may be less than accurate, please understand that the emotion is true. The intent is true. And, dramatically speaking, intention is everything” (196). The insightfulness Enzo offers in this simple quote made me realize just how thorough Enzo is at evaluating his situations. He has many times stated how he is of a much higher intelligence than any of his other fellow animals. It is very interesting to me how hard Enzo tries to separate himself from other dogs and animals with his belief that he is a bit human soon to return to a man’s body, but he is also continually going back to how he can’t form words with his tongue posing the question of if we are mentally or physically limited from attaining our goals. In Enzo’s case, it is a bit of both. While he focuses more on his physical incapabilities, there are some undertones of him being mentally incapable of handling a human soul as well, as after discovering Eve’s passing he explains how he had to revert back to his animal instincts to detach a little from his human feelings. In the park after stalking a squirrel, he explains,
    I was on that squirrel and it had no chance. I was ruthless. My jaws slapped down on it, cracking its back, my teeth ripped into its fur, and I shook it to death after that— I ripped it open with my fangs, my incisors, tore into it, and blood was on me— I devoured the squirrel. I had to do it. I missed Eve so much I couldn’t be a human anymore and feel the pain that humans feel. I had to be an animal again. (165)
    This scene was especially more graphic than some others, but I think Stein was trying to accentuate just how animal Enzo was in this moment. The way Enzo is fixated on his features, specifically his teeth, interested me because while dogs have many distinct features about them, some of the ones to be wary of are their teeth. I just thought it was interesting to associate this animal instinct moment to Enzo’s teeth which are designed by nature and made to kill as means to get fed. The other part that stood out in this quote is how Enzo exclaims how he had to kill the squirrel because it made him an animal and in making himself an animal he didn’t have to live like a human with their responsibilities and emotions. This to me was similar to an earlier thought he had when Denny had to let Zoe stay with her grandparents knowing neither of them wanted that. Enzo states,
    I marveled at them both; how difficult it must be to be a person. To constantly subvert your desires. To worry about doing the right thing, rather than doing what is most expedient. At that moment, honestly, I had grave doubts as to my ability to interact on such a level. I wondered if I could ever become the human I hoped to be. (122)
    All of Enzo’s deep thoughts reveal not only a lot about how he would be as a human but also the way of humans themselves. All of our daily patterns of interactions and unique ways of dealing with each other is something we often don’t even realize ourselves doing but Enzo, being a dog, really allowed me to see a new view of human characteristics.
    Stein’s work is really turning out to be a unique and amazing piece. His characters offer a vivid and realistic look at another American family’s life with mans best friend. I’m sure the final third of the book will be just as promising as the other parts.

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