Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.
Description taken from Goodreads.
The Art of Racing in the Rain has had a longtime place on my favorites shelf. I read it for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen and thought it was absolutely brilliant. At the time, I was into a lot of these animal perspective books, both in children’s and adult lit, and something about the book appealed to me. Sadly, I haven’t come back to this one in the years since then, and I decided to pick it up with new perspective to see if it could withstand the test of time.
Andddd it wasn’t meant to be.
The driving force behind my initial decision not to criticize the adult books that I read and review on the blog was the idea that I didn’t have enough experience to speak with authority on the genre. I ignored my rule for the Stanford Picks Series because I came to the conclusion that they were chosen for incoming freshmen who would have to break down the book one way or another and I should attempt to practice the same role with what knowledge and experience that I have.
With The Art of Racing in the Rain, I’m going to try to find a peaceful compromise between the two, because there was a lot that I felt was lacking in it, but I’m not sure if it’s typical to the genre or not. Think of it as me thinking out loud, not necessarily a hard-and-fast opinion on the book.
Let’s get right into it and ask the most pressing question: without the dog metaphor, does the story still matter? Then the question that comes immediately after: should the story still matter? After all, the dog metaphor is integral to the narration–essentially is the narration. Without it, is there still a story?
Bear with me here. It’s not all “If a tree falls in the forest…”
For the sake of discussion, let’s just say that the story, or at least the fundamental messages underlying it, should still matter without the narration. The themes should be ones that stick with the reader and change his or her life, even if it’s only in the smallest of ways. In that case, I would say that the story, the themes, the ideas, don’t matter, and that’s what strikes me the wrong way about the book.
We can hem and haw over the writing for days, about whether dogs make good narrators or if racing should be used as a metaphor for life or if the insight is valid. I find The Art of Racing in the Rain to be an incredibly subjective book to review, more so than others, if that’s possible.
The reason why I make the claim that I do is that, after all 321 pages of this book, a plot with drama worthy of a romcom movie (I’m thinking Crazy Stupid Love here), and a ridiculous amount of dog reflection, none of it sticks with me. For all the racing metaphors and grandiose claims about how life is, none of it leaves me with a changed perspective on the world. Instead, I feel like I just spent three hours listening to a man who thinks he knows everything, and somehow, it’s 5x more frustrating when you’re in his head and 10x more tiring when it’s not a man, but a dog.
I think my point is made by the fact that I haven’t picked up The Art of Racing in the Rain in the almost four years before this reread.
That’s not to say the book will be meaningless to everyone. I mean–I hate to say it, but being a bestseller tends to say something. I can understand the appeal, just based off the premise. But the way I see it, unless you’re into both dogs and cars, I wouldn’t recommend it just yet.
Delving a bit more into the areas that are hem-and-haw-worthy, the plot was what I was really unsure about. My knee-jerk reaction would be to call it cliché and dismiss it as superficial, but maybe that’s the result of how dead Enzo’s voice felt. And was Enzo’s voice really so dry, or is that more common in adult lit? I would assume the former because the repetition with which he uses the same writing patterns in his explanations could inspire a blackout-guaranteed drinking game, but then that makes me wonder if it was intentional in building up Enzo’s voice or if it was the result of poor writing.
Regardless, I felt that Enzo’s narration may be to blame for the plot feeling so bland because every event felt more like a plot point than a part of the flow of life. There are some serious issues here like sexual assault accusations, brain tumors, and struggling to break into a career, but none of it seems real. Instead, we’re stuck in suspended reality, not quite able to feel the story but able to see it happening.
Overall, I was really disappointed that this one didn’t turn out as well as I remembered it. It wasn’t there for me in terms of the writing, the plot, or the takeaway, and I was left with questions about if the plot structure and narration style were just more typical to adult lit or if the things I noted were genuinely worthy of criticism. The book itself seemed like a dog’s spin on a regular contemporary adult novel, and I didn’t think it worked. I may recommend this one in the future, but sparingly. 2 stars.