Spoiler alert. My son, Ian, wanted to give me a book for Christmas and with what I would describe as loving sensitivity, he chose the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, mainly because of my love for Golden Retrievers. There on the cover was the top half of my favorite dog breed. The art of racing in the rain sounded lyrical to me; instead, it was meant to be literal, advice given by the dog's owner, Denny, who was a race car driver by trade--Denny who loved his dog unconditionally; almost as much as his dog did back.
As I delved deeper into the novel, I was captured by the creativity of someone making a dog a narrator of a story. A dog who could think and feel and analyze people's feelings. It seemed to work, even though at first, I was critical -- a thinking dog? One who sounded too smart and clubby compared to my own Golden Retriever who was both innocent and feminine, shy and a little bit hapless? The star character of this novel, Enzo, wasn't even a Golden Retriever like the cover promised. He was a bumbling masculine type of dog, who guiltily could be accused of dreaming of evil stuffed animal Zebras, and ripping out their entrails, which meant their white synthetic stuffing. A dog who thought to salivate over food like most dogs do; who was traumatized over your every day, garden-variety pack of crows on his back deck. But to him, crows were more like vultures! Enzo was almost too sensitive, too smart for me at first, but his humor began to grow on me, and his insight was on point. He recognized how dogs loved repetition; how they could be both possessive and loyal, how they could even be jealous. How they might be resistant to change. How they could make do and survive if their caregivers did not meet their needs.
I was an unsuspecting reader when the humor of the story gave way to tragedy--when it became All About Eve. And none of it was good--the falling out of a family, disease, heartbreak; the wish and rush to blame. Enzo's interpretation of all of it, as told by a dog. This was compelling literature. Stein's writing was true to a dog's psyche right up until the very end when Enzo barks twice and races to his next adventure, then the prophetic ending happens and the story is almost perfect. I think that most dog lovers, most readers who like a good gut-wrenching tale, will appreciate The Art of Racing in the Rain just as much as I did. Published in 2009, check it out at your local library, neighborhood bookstore, or online booksellers.