Friday, August 28, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein

This is the story of Dennis, a driving instructor and race car driver, told by his dog, Enzo. Enzo believes that if he's as good a dog as he can possibly be, he will come back in his next life as a human. (It is a testament to his optimism that he believes this is a promotion.) Enzo has developed his wisdom by listening to Denny talk about racing, and by watching television documentaries, racing tapes, and The Weather Channel. As you would expect from a creature who hears, sees, and smells everything but cannot speak, Enzo is a very good listener.

Denny is very much an average guy, transformed by the love of a good woman. Enzo and Eve regard each other a bit warily, but come to acceptance and understanding. When Eve gives birth to Zoe, Enzo is completely committed to safeguarding her; Eve understands this, and her affection for Enzo deepens considerably. There are lots of homilies about and metaphors to racing; Stein clearly likes the analogy to navigating life's surprising twists and turns.

I've heard about dogs who can smell cancer; Enzo is the first to smell something wrong with Eve. When Eve finally succumbs, Denny's life spirals into a tale of such tragedy and misery, it makes the story of Job sound like a Dreamworks plot. Enzo remains a steadfast force of love and comfort. He helps Denny maintain a fragile grip, committed to fighting the forces that are out to destroy him.

As I've said before, the only down side to sharing your life with a pet is that you tend to outlive them, and I suspected that would be the case with Enzo's story. As he ages, he suffers physical decay, but his mind is still sharp and his heart is still full. I'm probably giving too much away, but I promise that the writing is so lyrical, so moving, that it's worth a first-hand read. Even though the second-to-last page might make you cry for an hour. Molly was a bit distraught; I'm not much of a cryer -- unless I'm on steroids -- so I explained to her my distress and she was very understanding. (If she has to come back as a human, I think she should at least be royalty.) As Enzo explained...

"...My soul has learned what it came here to learn, and all the other things are just things. We can't have everything we want. Sometimes, we simply have to believe."


tim's wife said...

I just read this one recently for my book club. I thought it was cleverly written. When my Sophie was still alive, I must say I preferred her company to quite a few humans I know. ;o) She was amazingly smart and intuitive too.
I was just recently starting to cave in on the "no more dogs"
stance since we lost her but I'm in the middle of a 9 day stint puppy-sitting my sister's doxie and I have new resolve. She does not sleep through the night, has unraveled 3 rolls of toilet paper and chews everything she can get her teeth on. She ran out the front door today and almost made it to the road(cars coming too).
I'm too old for this! It's amazing how much trouble one 10 pound dog can make.

La Cootina said...

I understand completely. Evolution has made puppies so cute so that we are less likely to kill them. However, there's a world of difference between a dog and a puppy.

This was my compromise after Elsie: no more puppies. I looked for a 2-3 year old dog that was housebroken and past chewing everything. That is how I happened on The Best Dog in The World! I can't imagine life without her.

Let someone else survive the first 12 months. Stalk the shelters in search of that slightly older dog who will reward you the rest of his/her life.