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Mini Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hadn’t heard much about this book beyond the dog-as-narrator trope before I read it, though I was familiar with how popular it was, including among most of the friends of mine who had read it. So when I didn’t love it, I thought for a long time as to why. Certainly, there is much about it to enjoy. It’s easy, uncomplicated writing, and the narrator, though not usually a reliable one, spins a good yarn in convincing us that his people are good and flawed in all the best ways humans can be. Enzo, himself, is every pet owner’s dream—which I think is why most people like him, not because we love the book, but because we love our pets and we project that love onto this wise old soul of a retriever, a rather generic choice as far as dogs are concerned. The moments that really grabbed me emotionally where those Enzo shared, not with Denny, but with Eve and Zoe, for whom there was less hero-worship and instead a relationship and feelings based on shared experiences. If this book had been just about Eve, in fact, I’m fairly certain I would have loved it.

Read on, but beware spoilers!

Where the writer loses me is the fight over custody of Zoe after Eve dies. To start, Enzo’s limited point of view is a pretty convenient way of getting out of offering much in the way of detail in what would be a thoroughly complicated set of circumstances, especially the rape accusation against Denny. I was uncomfortable reading Denny’s encounter with Eve’s cousin, not because woman-on-man rape doesn’t happen (or because 15-year-olds aren’t sexually aware or precocious), but because I saw the eventual consequences coming from a mile away. I don’t think myself especially clever for knowing that Denny’s “Evil Twin” in-laws would use the non-event against him—the story telegraphs it from the moment the Enzo notices the girl’s behavior. But while Enzo hints at the remorse she feels for the false accusation and subtly suggests that Denny’s father-in-law maybe, possibly coerced her into making the accusation in the first place, it all feels like a cheap plot device ripped from a low-end police procedural. Denny is little more than a victim of circumstance and assholes with money, and while that may engender sympathy among readers—certainly, it did with me—ultimately, it doesn’t make him very interesting. It wasn’t enough to totally ruin the book for me, but enough to keep it from becoming anything close to a favorite. In the final moments, when we’re told Denny is a Formula 1 champion, I think we’re supposed to feel good on his behalf. All I could muster was, “That’s nice.” Which also serves as a two-word review for this book.

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One thought on “Mini Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

  1. Janelle Morano

    27 May on 2014 at 8:38 am

    As you handed me the book, you mentioned some of your initial feelings, so I tried very hard to not let it affect my judgement of the book. But while reading it, I felt the same way as you. I felt like Enzo had both the power to understand deep emotions, but at the same time, lacked insight in some key plot points and lacked detail in his emotional perception of Denny and Zoe. In the end, I felt like the author couldn’t decide what were the limits of Enzo’s empathy and perception, so it was unbalanced and conveniently simple when the plot got complicated. But it was just a fine book.

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