Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
published by HarperCollins
original publication: 2008
size: 219KB (338 pages)
categories: literary fiction
lending: not enabled
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
real page numbers: yes
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice: yes ($3.95 at time of writing, audiobook read by Christopher Evan Welch)

“People are always worried about what’s happening next. They often find it difficult to stand still, to occupy the now without worrying about the future. People are not generally satisfied with what they have; they are very concerned with what they are going to have.”
–Enzo

The world is a terrible place, people are horribly cruel, and even being born a dog is a soul-crushing tragedy.

That was largely the message I got from The Art of Racing in the Rain. I knew before I finished the first chapter that my Significant Other shouldn’t read it…it would simply be too sad.

I know that some of you probably like that kind of book, and if so, this not poorly written (although I found it heavy-handed in places). In fact, with over 2,100 reviews at Amazon, it averages 4.6 stars out of 5.

The primary conceit here is that the story is told by a dog. I love animals, and have owned many dogs, and yes, we sometimes speak for them in the family (“Klein thinks that’s ridiculous”).

However, the realism of the book being in a dog’s voice is really undercut by the dog, Enzo, having basically human intelligence. Enzo watches a lot of television, and understands complex metaphysical concepts…and has a string of favorite actors.

In fact, Enzo basically is a human in a dog’s body…and knows it. This dog isn’t just lacking thumbs and the capability of speech: they are losses, as though they had been taken away, and we are reminded of that often.

The other narrative device is making everything an analogy to car racing. Enzo knows all the great racers, and Denny, who Enzo calls his “master”, is a racer. Don’t worry, though: you don’t have to be a racing fan to understand it, in a way similar to you not having to be a dog person to understand Enzo. The author is careful to explain everything to you.

Mainly, though, the book is tragedy after tragedy…to the point where both Sophocles and Ingmar Bergman might have told the author to lighten up a little. ;)

That said, I can see how people would consider this one of their favorite books. If you like the idea of persevering against unfair odds, this one could appeal to you.

I was interested in the book, and I looked forward to getting to the next part…although I was also happy when it was over.

Overall, I’d say I just wasn’t a good fit for this book. If you are, you probably would be more willing to allow for the stretches in story-telling that are used to support the feel of the book, maybe in the way that I have a “willing suspension of disbelief” when reading a fantasy.

I always try to give you both an idea of how I felt about the book, and, more importantly, an idea of whether or not you’d like it. I hope I’ve done that here.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

About these ads

2 Responses to “Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain”

  1. jasonecox Says:

    Bufo,

    Excellent review. I recently “read” this one myself (through Audible) and was quite surprised at how emotionally powerful it ended up being. I would have written a review on my blog, but there are quite a few things about the book that are opposed to my personal religious beliefs (reincarnation and the Buddhist mindset that is part of the primary conceit you mentioned) and while that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book, it would be hard to explain away.

    That said, I didn’t get quite the same degree of the negativity you did from the book. Letting the dog have human-level intelligence was easy (we have a chocolate lab named Eli who I “speak” for in my house). Using endless hours of TV as his educational device was kind of funny. And Enzo, despite his “predicament” was always so inescapably optimistic. Choosing to see the good wherever it could possibly be present. Seeing his “dog-ness” not as some sort of tragedy so much as nearly being at the pinnacle of the reincarnation-evolutionary ladder. Like he was almost there, and knew he would be human in his next life.

    Both Enzo and Denny maintained something of noble character, too. Choosing to fight against all those odds and to do it in a way that was just plain positive. I loved that aspect of the book. Honestly, it was refreshingly different from the common dysfunctional negativity dystopia that seems to be the standard (or at least highly admired) in today’s literature. Noble character is almost vilified by our media. As though it is a ridiculous or conceited thing to which to even strive.

    I thought the book had essentially a positive narrative. Yes, there were times when things seemed bleak. Denny certainly has his fallen-hero moment. But he doesn’t go all the way (so to speak) in that. Enzo’s positive perspective on the nobility in Denny pulled me through that with no problems.

    So, I’m wondering did the fact that I listened to an unabridged, produced audiobook lead me to my somewhat more positive impression of the book? And increase my enjoyment therefore? Did you read the book or listen with tts? Did the intonation used by the narrator lend much to the impression for me or similarly the lack thereof in the tts engine for you?

    Or maybe it’s something like Meet the Parents. I hated that movie. It was just disaster after disaster. The little bit of positivity at the end did not, for me, feel genuine or make it seem “worth it.” But everyone else I know loves that movie. Maybe I’m just on the opposite side here ;)

    -Jason

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason!

      I appreciate your response!

      First, I both listened to it with TTs (text-to-speech) and sight-read it, which is often the case. I don’t think that particularly impacts it (although it is more of a challenge for me to like something which is an audiobook, if I haven’t read it before…TTS doesn’t have that negative impact for me).

      I think part of how you see the use of Enzo’s humanness is whether you would agree that a dog becoming a human in a next life is a step up or not. I do tend to think dogs are more intelligent than most people think they are, but that’s not because I think they are more human…it’s more because I tend to equate dogs with humans in terms of…I’ll say the legitimacy of how they live life. Enzo often laments his lack of thumbs and speech, and that causes real problems. While he uses his dogness, it’s with a human level of manipulation…like it was a body switch movie. The rabbits in Watership Down don’t think like humans, and aren’t pretending to be rabbits (as I might argue that there are times Enzo is pretending to be a dog).

      As to being heroic characters: I tend to think a character is heroic when they take positive actions that change things, not just when they endure (or resist doing something evil). I have that problem with Lord of the Rings…we are to cheer when a character resists failing, rather than when they take a risk and succeed.

      That’s probably just me, though. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,252 other followers

%d bloggers like this: