Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Report: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I had some difficulty with this, as I have mentioned previously. That has entirely to do with my own reaction to tragedy, and this book has tragedy enough to satisfy Shakespeare. A man loses almost everything. That's not a novel, it's a country-western song.

However, this is a beautiful book. The odd charm of a tale entirely narrated by an unusually intelligent dog named Enzo ought to lend it more to comedy or farce, but the premise is taken seriously and it works. I found myself drawn into Enzo's narrative and affected by his second-person observations of his master's life and his obsession with racing. It's a story of courage under duress, about love and death and how evil can be done with the best of intentions. It brought my wife to tears when she read it (sorry, don't cry much myself).

I could write a lot about the structure of this book. The sequence of events that lead up to the eventual resolution and the device of framing the book as a recollection of past events ought to be used as textbook material for writing drama. If I have a beef with this, it is that so many of the events that befall Denny (Enzo's owner) don't seem to come out of his own actions, but out of the actions and desires of others. He's not passive. We see him making choices, but it's always a choice about whether to remain firm in the teeth of a gale rather than to "take arms against a sea of troubles." Enzo himself, within his limited capabilities, manages to take action a number of times, but I just didn't feel that his involvement in the story was sufficient to qualify him as the protagonist. He is too often merely an observer.

But that's a quibble. This is a beautiful book beautifully written. Stein's observations about racing and what it takes to be a racer are nothing short of distillations of Zen teaching and they are rendered beautifully.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this (it would rate a 5, but I doubt I'll read this again).

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