The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Earlier this year I picked up Alexandra Horowitz's nonfiction book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. Horowitz is a cognitive scientist and explains why dogs act the way they do, essentially creating a road map to better understand how dogs think and perceive the world around them. I found the book very interesting and when I came across The Art of Racing in the Rain, it sounded like if would be a fictionalized version of Inside of a Dog. Narrated by Enzo the dog, the novel is told through his point of view, which offers an honest look into the lives of his family. It is less about Enzo and more about the turbulent life of his owner, Denny, a race car driver, and his wife and child.

This is the first "dog" novel I have read. I picked it up in an effort to lighten my reading diet after I was a bit nauseated from too many classics all at once. It worked. The novel is straightforward and charming. Stein uses Denny's passion of racing cars as a metaphor for the quickness and difficulties of life. I did roll my eyes a few times, as the use of this metaphor became cliche and the voice of the narrator sometimes felt contrived, but overall it was a quick and enjoyable read. The author takes great liberties as to what a dog can actually understand, but if you can be open minded to the premise, I think you will enjoy the novel well enough.
So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is compromised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.
With that being said, I did have one gripe; the narrator didn't actually sound like a dog. If a dog were narrating, I would expect it to sound more excited, perhaps more disjointed than the voice Stein created; a stream of consciousness of sorts, a "I'm so happy to be here but my mind moves a mile a minute" sort of voice. I think if Stein had made our narrator sound more like a dog and less like a human, I would have enjoyed this novel more. It is a pleasant read, but for me it didn't move any mountains.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2008


  1. That passage you quoted is supposed to be written by...a dog? Like you said, I think a more disjointed/"oh boy oh boy oh boy" voice would read more doggishly, like in the Eggers story. I know that Greg at New Dork liked this, you are awarding it "pleasant read" status, but I don't know if I can ever get over the dog voice thing to actually read it. I'm always hesitant to read something that's been written from an unusual pov, and I can't say why exactly except that it feels gimmicky to me if the author doesn't manage to pull it off. Emma Donoghue did the five-year-old thing well in Room, but I'm not sure I could read a whole story from the voice (or "sorta voice") of a dog. Ergh. I'm glad you wrote about this, otherwise I probably would've picked this up expecting something more like the nonfiction book you describe.

  2. Ellen, Exactly. The voice sounded just like a human. Some of the ideas conveyed by the narrator were dog-like, but his voice was human. I think Stein could have gotten much more creative than he did.

  3. I'm with Ellen on being wary of pet POVs in stories. Might be I need to branch out, but it usually feels like a gimmick.

    Great review, excellent work bringing up the dog sounding too much like a human.

  4. But the dog thought he was ready to BE human, so giving him a narrative voice more like a dog would negate that whole idea, wouldn't it? I'd say, if you're willing to accept that you're reading a dog narrating, then you might as well accept that his voice is human-like.

    Now that you mention it, the racing-as-life metaphor thing did get a little tortured after a while. But I think the heartstring-tugging was an effective enough mask of that - at least for me.

    Good review - always enjoy finding out the reasons people don't like the books I do, especially when it's not just "I didn't like it because I didn't like a character, etc." - your review definitely does your opinion justice.

  5. Mayowa, This is my first and while I am interested to try others, namely Room, I will probably stay away from novels narrated by a dog for awhile.

    Greg, You do bring up a good point. I know he felt like he was ready to become a human in his next life, but he was still a dog. I think the fact that Enzo was as smart as he was, learning a lot from TV and understanding human emotions and motivations to the extent that he did was enough to suggest he was ready to become human. But at the end of the day he was still and dog and I don't think his VOICE had to sound human to suggest he was ready for it.

  6. I agree with this review! I loved it, but didn't think the narrator was convincing either.

  7. It's a really slippery ground to write your novel on. I can only picture a dog's mind being like this:


    That sort of thing. To humanize a dog really needs a talented writer. I'm still on the fence about Stein.

  8. Jillian, I didn't think I was the only one... good to know :)

    Ben, I suggest you pass on him. Nothing overly special.

  9. This one didn't work for me. It just seemed like everything possible went wrong for the guy and then there was the dog's POV. The court room scene (in the dog's mind) ruined it for me.

  10. Like Melissa says, the court-room scene ruined it for me too. Everything DID go wrong for the guy because I thought the author was trying very hard to open up some tear ducts. That said, I did like the book, I am a dog lover and I can read any dog book. Might even re-read this one.

  11. I quite enjoyed this one, it made my cry a bit which isn't that unusual actually I'm a bit of a sook like that! There is a book called The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness which has a dog whose thoughts can be heard - sounds weird but is truly amazing. That dog's voice is completely what I imagine a dog's voice to be - eg 'Need a poo' but also manages to perfectly capture the kind of steadfast loyalty and bravery and protectiveness that I associate with dogs. I can't recommend it enough!