Friday, June 27, 2008

Less Man, More Dog, Please

Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein


Enzo is a dog who dreams of being reincarnated as a man (never, interestingly, a woman.) Enzo figures it’s about time he advanced to the next highest life form, since he’s gained vast knowledge from hours spent watching tv. (Television apparently has opposite effects on people and beasts.) His owner’s name is Denny Swift. And in case you were wondering, yes, Denny wants to go fast. He’s a race car driver.

Yeah, this is the kind of book where the author – without the slightest bit of irony – names a racer “Swift.” That alone should tell you a lot.

The book is narrated by Enzo, as he gleans life lessons from Denny’s singular talent for – you guessed it – racing in the rain. (Robert Pirsig performed this “art of” trick much better.) And Enzo does have some wise/cute reflections on humanity’s condition. I just can’t really remember any at the moment.

But despite the story being narrated by a dog, the entire action is propelled by Garth Stein’s human characters. And that’s unfortunate, because Denny et al. are straight out of a Lifetime Sunday night movie. The big conflict in the book is when Denny’s wife dies, and he has to battle her rich, snobby parents for custody of his daughter (because, you see, they can give her opportunities that a struggling race car driver never could). Throw in a false sexual harassment accusation, and you have a perfect recipe for “heart-wrenching” goopiness.

The Art of Racing in the Rain desperately needed more doggishness. Enzo is mostly a passive observer who speaks as a well-educated human, and the plot doesn’t rely on the presence of a dog at all. Without Enzo, almost everything would have turned out the exact same. So what was the point?

A clever idea, just one that went to the dogs. Garth Stein is not nearly clever and witty enough to have pulled this off.

If Oprah ever got her claws on this book, I’m sure it would become a nationwide bestseller. Sensitive book clubs would swoon. It just wasn’t for me.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Elizabeth at 9:56 PM


Blogger reyn said...

Dragon Tears, by Dean Koontz, has an awesome dog narrator. He only does a few chapters, not the entire book, but Koontz (a big fan of dogs, who has ghostwritten two other books by his own retriever), has an excellent way of speaking from the dog's view. He doesn't know names, just The Woman and the The Boy, and describes everything in terms of smells. Oddly, The Watchers, which features a dog of possibly super-human intelligence, never gives us this viewpoint.

6/30/2008 9:24 AM  

Post a Comment