Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would read a book that was written from the POV of a dog. I am a dog person. Always have been. My first true friend was an imaginary collie named Poojie. Yes, I am a dog person. I loved Marley & Me. I currently am allowed to reside with two Labrador Retrievers. I raised Shetland Sheepdogs in my former married lifetime. Yes, I am a dog person.

So, I wept at the end of this book, even though we readers were put on alert as to how Enzo's own story would end.

Enzo travels from puppyhood, when Denny is an aspiring racecar driver, through Denny's marriage to Eve, the birth of Zoe, Eve's battle with brain cancer and her death, Denny's battle with in-laws for custody of Zoe, to Enzo's last days when Denny reaches the pinnacle of what Enzo has dreamed for him.

Enzo is the quintessential loyal Dog archetype. He's the ultimate companion in service to his master. He is Denny's amanuensis. (And Stein, his.) He serves as the mirror for Denny's fears of "not belonging or of not being approved of," as Jamie Sams puts Dog Medicine in her Medicine Cards. Enzo believes in Denny, even when Denny does not. He is Dog.

But Enzo longs to be a human. He envies our opposable thumbs and flexible tongues.
He has, as he often says, only gestures. Oh, but he does use those gestures well! i.e. when he tears custody papers from Denny's hands and ultimately lifts a leg on them. Ah, yes, he uses gestures very well!

I remember when our 7 year old Black Lab, Dusty, was just a pup. Dusty terrorized the house with his chewing. Everything went into his mouth. He chewed a hole in the wall, razor blades, underwear, jewelry and - horrors! - books! The Old Goober and I would holler at him and, eventually, when Dusty realized the hollering was directed at him, he would settle down with a look of guilt in those large brown eyes.

One particularly bright and shiny autumn afternoon Dusty leapt onto the couch, tipping it towards the window and began his "Squirrel, get off the Boss's property!" bark. I thought he and the couch were going straight through the window after our resident pesky tree rodent. It was then I also saw the masticated end of a throw pillow, it's guts spilling out onto the couch.

I instantly had a flash of Dusty in a straight-jacket and I heard in my head, "But I don't have any hands! And there is so much out there to experience! All I have is my mouth!"

Indeed. All a dog has is gestures.

This, fortunately for us, makes Enzo a keen observer of his human family and he shares their story with us.

However, I've been arguing with myself whether Enzo's dog-sight keeps him from seeing anyone but Denny as no more than a two-dimensional character. Denny's in-laws, the Twins as Enzo dubs them, certainly suffer from being the stereotypical evil in-laws out to control the life of their progeny. Perhaps it's that Enzo watches too much television? I don't know. I can't help but feel as if there was much more to this story that got edited out somewhere along the line. I would have loved more of Eve in particular. Why did she succumb to her parents' manipulation so easily? More depth would have made this a truly remarkable book. As it is, it is a pleasant read.


Michelle said...

Lovely write up on what sounds a really worthwhile read (as a fellow dog lover of course! *grin*)

I love the books from animal perspectives. Not everyone carries it off well. I enjoyed Watership Down and the Plague Dogs by... urgh... same author.

but I read an enormous book told from the view of moles that was just as dark and heavy-going as digging through mud.

bnavta said...

Michelle ~
Thanks! Sorry it took so long for me to respond. Somehow, your comments whizzed by me.

It is a worthwhile read. Quite humorous and so DOG. I could easily picture Enzo and our Dusty commiserating on their lives with humans. :o)

Moles? While I obviously enjoy stories from an animal's perspective, it would seem moles would have a very dark view of life.