On the Docket: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Genre: Adult Fiction

The Plot: Meet Enzo, a philosophical dog with an adorable sense of observation. He tells the tragic, yet uplifting story of his master, Denny Swift, a race car driver. Enzo starts his story at the end, when he is old and in pain, ready to move on to his next life. Slowly, he reveals the life and times of Denny Swift, from the day Enzo was chosen from a litter of pups at a farm. Over the years, Denny falls in love, gets married, becomes a father, and experiences heartache. Through it all, Enzo is in his corner, silently doing his best to show his support for Denny, without the benefit of language to express his feelings.

First Impressions: First off, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love books about animals and I thought this concept was positively charming. However, before I continue with my opinions of Stein’s novel, I will have to make a distinction between narrative voice and plot line. Enzo’s narrative voice is what captivated me, inspired me to turn the pages; the plot line, on the other hand, was absolutely absurd.

Spoiler Alert! If you have not read this book and intend to do so, please pause here.

We first meet Enzo when he is old and close to death. He revisits his entire life throughout the novel, remembering with acute fondness all the key moments of triumph and tragedy. At first, Enzo isn’t a big fan of Denny’s wife, Eve, because she represents a possible threat to their man/dog bond. Slowly, he learns to love and protect Eve, especially when she gives birth to a daughter, Zoe. From chapter one, the reader knows that Eve eventually dies, but it is interesting to see this plot point evolve, for Enzo can smell her disease years before she grows sick. I thought it was really touching to read how intensely Enzo wished he could communicate with her, tell her that something is wrong with her brain. Sadly, her sickness and eventual death is slow and painful. Enzo does his best to protect her from the “demon” threatening to take her away from him and his precious Denny. I cried more than once while reading this book.

Now, here is where the plot becomes ridiculous. After Eve passes away, her parents sue for custody of Zoe! They’re rich and think they can do a better job. Sure, Denny was absent often due to his career but Eve’s parents make an unnecessarily cruel decision to break up their daughter’s family. Who does that? To make matters worse, Denny is also pursued by a 15-year old girl with a crush, Annika. She practically assaults him while he’s sleeping! I didn’t understand why Stein chose to go down this plot path. Enzo’s voice was plenty charming and heartbreaking; he didn’t need help moving the story along. When Denny refuses Annika’s advances, Denny gets arrested for statutory rape. I couldn’t help myself… I was rolling my eyes at this point. Of course, Eve’s parents latch onto this new tidbit of information, get temporary but full custody of Zoe, and take Denny for all he’s worth.

Finally, at the end, Annika has a sudden change of heart, drops the charges, and Denny gets his daughter back. Sheesh. I don’t even know what to say. Denny was even refused entry to his own wife’s funeral ceremony because everyone thought he was a pedophile. Ridiculous.

The Spoiler Alert pause has now lifted. Please press play.

Enzo’s narrative charm, though, came through on every page. I loved his sense of loyalty and logic. I kept looking over at my own pooch… wondering what she may be thinking. Enzo would keep referring to a documentary he once saw that made the following claim: after a dog dies, he comes back as a man when he’s ready. And Enzo’s ready! He says so several times but I believe him wholeheartedly. He dreams of one day shaking Denny’s hand and saying “Enzo says hello”. I loved it.

Final Verdict: Plot aside, I couldn’t get enough of Enzo and the ending is just as adorable as the beginning. If you’re an animal lover, you will definitely love this book.

In the spirit of Enzo’s story, allow me to introduce you to my dog, my baby: Rowan Agnes, also known as Funny Face, a three year old miniature schnauzer with an abundance of attitude. The groomer practically scalped her and Rowan ended up looking especially severe. I’m waiting for her fur to grow back, so that she starts to look like her old self again. That being said, I’ve posted a “before” picture below, just so you can get an idea of what she’s supposed to look like, satellite ears and all.

I love animals, especially dogs. There is something in their eyes… intelligence, compassion, mischief. Oh, the mischief! Rowan doesn’t let a day pass without getting into some kind of trouble: hiding socks behind the dining room table, getting into the garbage, sneaking up onto the furniture for a nap. Sometimes she’ll give me this look (you know, the look), stare me straight in the eyes and I wonder what goes on inside that crazy brain of hers.