The Art of Racing in the Rain was mentioned in several conversations I'd had with my university professors. Mostly in passing, mostly in that "hey, this is what I'm reading right now and I love it" sort of way. I didn't think much of it, or give the subtle recommendation much mind. The title, I feel, is deceiving. It's totally, 100% appropriate--as far as titles go, it's fan-freaking-tastic--but when people talked to me about its story-telling, its voice, its craft, it all sort of just washed over me. I wasn't interested. I thought it was a book about racing.
I was sort of not wrong.
Okay, if I tell you how I actually stumbled upon this book, you have to promise not to judge me.
I read fan works. When it's late and I'm confined to a dark room, trying to sleep, I use my phone to scroll through Tumblr or Archive of Our Own (I've referenced AO3 in another post, actually, so my fan works reading shouldn't be a surprise) and read fanfiction. There, I said it. Fanfiction. We can argue its legitimacy in another post.
My interest in this book was finally piqued when it was mentioned in a fanfiction I read.
“Ok,” Stiles rushes, before Derek can even say hello, “so last night I was reading this book, right? It was about this dog, and he has this master who does race car driving. And the whole thing is from the dog’s perspective. And as I was reading it, I was thinking, Wow, this is really good. This is cool. Who thought to write a book from a dog’s point of view? ..."
Derek glances at the book in his hand: The Art of Racing in the Rain, it reads, and it’s just intriguing enough to force him to make up his mind.
A fanfic gave me a better idea of what The Art of Racing in the Rain was about than anyone who had mentioned it to me. Granted, I never really inquired further, but with how much everyone loved it, why hadn't anyone tried to sell me on it? Why had no one told me it was written from the perspective of a dog?
I got it. I read it. I loved it.
The Art of Racing in the Rain has Enzo as its narrator. He's a dog. His owner is Dennis (Denny), who is a semi-professional race car driver. And like any dog, Enzo lives through, and bears witness to, the ups and downs of Denny's life. It would be boring if Stien wasn't so damn brilliant at writing.
Enzo is hyper-aware of his dog-ness, but he's also hyper-aware of humans and their nature. He's incredibly, almost unbelievably insightful. He's also confident in his beliefs--though they may seem misguided from a human's perspective, it makes perfect sense from a dog's. And Enzo's articulate and astute commentary makes him a very credible and reasonable narrator. He's hilariously blunt, utterly frustrated with his dog body--flat tongue preventing speech, a lack of thumbs--and completely, utterly loyal, loving, and hopeful. As a reader, you can't possibly know the truth Enzo's faith, only its strength--but you come to love him so much you want to believe it. You love him the way you love your own dog. And I guess that's what drew me in hardest: this hope that my dogs understood and loved me as much as Enzo understands and loves Denny. If what Enzo believes is true, to live in any way that isn't optimistic and hopeful just isn't an option.
"Sometimes I think you actually understand me," [Denny] said. "It's like there's a person inside there. It's like you know everything." I do, I said to myself. I do.
-The Art of Racing in the Rain, 57
I don't think I've read a book where revelation was on every page. And it wasn't the sort of revelation that was particularly revolutionary, but of the sort where you know and understand certain things, but don't know how to define them. Or rather, you have a certain sense about the workings of the universe, then someone put it into words, and you have that instant of liberation, because you finally have a way to accurately and concisely articulate this grand concept you've been aware of but couldn't quite talk about.
That's this book. That's every damn page of this book, just about.
The reader is dropped right at the end of the story, and Enzo's tale (tail? I try to be funny, but it doesn't always work) is told in retrospect. It's the "Here I am now, and this is how I got here" structure, and as common as this story-telling is, Enzo as narrator is the spin pulling the structure away from cliche.
Sometimes sad, sometimes dramatic, sometimes clinically and chronically and intentionally missing the mark, Stein personifies and humanizes Denny, his wive Eve, and their daughter Zoë through Enzo's firmly established and unwavering character. In some ways, the reader is limited in a certain way of understanding of events because of Enzo's understanding events, but Enzo's understanding of the world and the universe and his place within it more the reader never misses a beat of the story.
Despite how Enzo, and Stein through Enzo, bombard the reader with racing statistics--seriously, there are so many references to international professional racing, the names started blurring together for me--these specificities don't overshadow the point Enzo makes with his racing metaphors. Denny talks about the art of racing in the rain to Enzo, about the connection between man and machine, they watch racing tapes together. When Enzo is left alone, he watches documentaries. Through this, Enzo's philosophies are shaped, and he becomes empowered with his garnered knowledge. He accepts this, as a law of the universe, and lives accordingly:
Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you. I know it's true; racing doesn't lie.
-The Art of Racing in the Rain, 79
So while the title, at first, might appear misleading, it's a concise statement of the story's theme, and, well, Enzo's character in its entirety. It's a metaphor woven obviously, yet somehow still seamlessly using a dog as a narrator.
I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough. It's heartfelt and moving, poignant and piercing. It tears your heart out then sews it back in place. It also made me hug my dogs a little closer at night.
And if you're worried about breaking your own heart, don't. The ending is very satisfying, even if it left me wiping my face.