Tuesday, April 21, 2015
"The Art of Racing in the Rain": Human Philosophy From a Dog's Perspective
If you have ever looked at your dog and thought, I know he totally understands exactly what we are talking about, but you've never been able to prove it, Garth Stein's warm and moving book "The Art of Racing in the Rain" will confirm your suspicions. It will also make you love your dog a little bit more, possibly want to watch race car driving even if you've never enjoyed it, make you ponder how to live life, and it will probably make you cry.
I had my doubts about this book. Really? A novel narrated by a wise dog named Enzo who has the heart of a racer and the mind of a philosopher just didn't seem like the sort of the thing that I wanted to read. BUT I am so glad that I did. I will most likely recommend this book to every friend of mine who isn't mourning the death of a pet or the loss of a loved one because it is a truly beautiful book.
Enzo isn't just lovable, but he's also believable as a narrator. At the beginning of the book, Enzo is at the end of his life and he contemplates this in a philosophical way. Having watched educational shows on t.v. while Denny and his family were at work and school, he learned that in Mongolia they believe that dogs who are ready come back as humans when they die. Enzo is ready. The rest of the book is his reflection on his life with Denny Swift, his "flawed hero" master who is an aspiring race car driver, Eve, the "interloper" who becomes Denny's wife and who falls very ill (which Enzo is aware of even before she is), and their daughter Zoe who becomes a pawn in an ugly custody battle between Denny and Eve's parents (Enzo calls them the evil twins).
The sometimes melodramatic plot of the pitfalls and hardships in life that Denny faces, and Enzo's inability to articulate completely his feelings to his owner, Eve and Zoe is tempered by the extended metaphors of racing and life. Enzo is a keen narrator because he listens and pays attention in only a way that a dog can. He understands the subtleties of communication because he is limited by not being able to speak. While reflecting on watching racing tapes with Denny, Enzo really internalizes the idea that in racing and life "that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves." We can't blame the other drivers in the race of life, or the road conditions. We are the ones who create where we go and how we get there by each decision we make. "The car goes where our eyes go."
I finished this book very quickly, and I looked at my dog, Loki differently after I was done. How much does he know and understand? People will never know, but just in case, I talk to him even more now to keep him in the loop of our lives. He's an old guy now, and maybe he's ready to come back as a human in his next life.
And yes, you most likely will cry at the end. It's hard not to when you fall in love with a dog who has lived a good life and it's their time to go. I don't know many people that don't get sad when an animal dies in a movie even if people are dying left and right. During the scene that shows the good old dog die, the tears start to really flow. It's something about the innocence of a dog, the loyalty, the blind faith and companionship that they offer that chokes you up when they die.
Regardless of the tears, you will be happy that you read the story that will soon be made into a movie starring Patrick Dempsey as Denny. I don't know how the movie makers will do justice to Enzo, but maybe they'll pay attention to him as much as he paid attention in his life to assist his family through some of their toughest challenges. The road of life is never without its accidents and set backs, but when you have a good, loyal companion to help navigate the rocky emotional terrain, it certainly helps.