Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

If you are from Seattle this is a book that you really must read. Not only does the novel evoke the very essence of the area but manages to maker her a co-star. You will find yourself walking the streets of local neighborhoods as you remain ensconced in your reading chair.

Not surprisingly the author Garth Stein makes Seattle his home. But Stein's use of a dog as his narrator allows him a descriptive freedom that creates an almost three dimensional world for his reader. It also will likely make you look at your dog in a whole new way.

The story is narrated by a Labrador mix named Enzo. As he nears the end of his life Enzo tells the story of his life and introduces us to the family of people that it revolves around. His owner Denny Swift, his wife Eve, and his daughter Zoe.

Denny is a race car driver who has to work in an auto shop between gigs to pay the bills. Enzo is his biggest fan and together they watch tapes of his races while Denny shares the tactics and tricks to getting around the track successfully. Enzo believes in them utterly and uses Denny's driving advice as a guide to getting around the sharp corners that come upon you in life.

Listen to Enzo as he talks about how Denny looks upon a particular aspect of racing. "This is something that I'd heard him say before: getting angry at another driver for a driving incident is pointless. You need to watch the drivers around you, understand their skill, confidence, and aggression levels, and drive with them accordingly. Know who is driving next to you. Any problems that may occur have ultimately been caused by you, because you are responsible for where you are and what you are doing there."

And it is a good thing that Denny and Enzo have this to fall back on because their lives provide more sharp corners than an octagon. The book is relentless in placing challenges in front of our two heroes. Even as the young family settle into their new home in the Central District Enzo senses that something is wrong with Eve.

Feeling helpless Enzo describes the agony of Eve's illness and the repercussions that ensue. His desire to help is almost painful to him at times and he laments his lack of thumbs and wishes for a tongue that would allow him to speak. When Enzo himself begins to decline he refuses to give up hope because he is convinced that he will come back as a man.

"I am ready to become a man now, though I realize I will lose all that I have been. All of my memories, all of my experiences. I would like to take them with me into my next life - there is much that I have gone through with the Swift family - but I have little say in the matter. What can I do but force myself to remember? Try to imprint what I know on my soul, a thing that has no surface, no sides, no pages, no form of any kind. Carry it so deeply in the pockets of my experience that when I open my eyes and look down at my new hands with their thumbs that are able to close tightly around their fingers, I will already know. I will already see."

This book will have you in tears but it will also open your eyes to new possibilities. It provides us with some unexpected insight on life from a truly unique source.