Let’s take a look at The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.
This post contains spoilers.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
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Plot of The Art of Racing in the Rain
Literary fiction rarely unfolds in strict chronological order. In this case most of the story is an extended flashback as the narrator remembers his life. The very last section flashes forward into the future, which is a bit of a stretch because he is no longer available to tell the story.
The story is told in the first person from a dog’s point of view. The narrator is Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, who lives with race car driver Denny Swift, Denny’s wife Eve, and daughter Zoë.
Having a dog for a narrator has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the author doesn’t have to delve as deeply into his human characters. For example, if Denny was the narrator the reader might expect to sit in the car as he races around the track. Because he isn’t the narrator, the reader gets the TV-viewing dog’s analysis of events instead.
- Ability to travel is restricted. Enzo can’t go to the trial with Denny, for example.
- The dialogue is tricky because the dog doesn’t speak. Enzo can only report dialogue he overhears.
- The dog has physical limitations, like having no thumbs and having limited color vision. The author must keep track of all these differences to realistically limit his character.
- It also leads Enzo to be a bit unreliable because he can only guess what is going on from his narrow observations and memories.
The story is set in Seattle, but we don’t get a strong feeling of setting because of the limitations of a dog narrator. It might have been informative if the author had described what Seattle smells and sounds like from a dog’s perspective.
Public domain photo via VisualHunt.com
Themes and Symbolism
As a work of literary fiction, The Art of Racing in the Rain has deeper themes and symbolism than a genre fiction title might have. One of the symbols is the toy zebra who runs amok in a surrealistic scene. He symbolizes what can go wrong in life, and possibly helps with foreshadowing.
There is a strong theme of death and dying, and both Eve and Enzo die before the end of the book. There is an emphasis on Enzo’s idea of reincarnation and that death is a step towards becoming human.
On the other hand, it is also about love and relationships, particularly the unbreakable bonds between Denny and Enzo, Denny and his wife Eve, and Denny and his daughter Zoë.
Because Enzo could only report what he witnessed, it had the effect of distancing the reader from emotional lives of the human characters. Some readers don’t find that troubling and report crying in all the appropriate tissue-wringing spots. Other readers see the gap between dog’s reporting and what the people are feeling as too artificial. In fact, the author may have added the long stretch of tear-inducing bad luck to counteract the emotional insulation of having a dog narrator.
I think we’ve all known people who’ve had more than their share of misfortunes, such as multiple deaths in their families, economic troubles, etc. That said, the string of bad luck Denny endures seemed unbelievable at best and blatant manipulation of the reader’s feelings at the worst. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt manipulated by literary fiction (see my discussion of Olive Kitteridge, for example), which may be why I don’t enjoy it as much.
Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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While I can’t say that the sad sections brought me to tears (that rarely happens when I read anyway), I did feel they were suitably sad. I actually felt more anger than sadness in certain sections – anger at the Evil Twins for being so evil, even anger at Denny for letting them take over so easily when Eve was initially ill. Then again, maybe that’s because I had previously read the book and knew what was going to come of such a seemingly sensible living arrangement.
Well, I guess it’s good the the author gave enough leeway for different readers to feel different emotions about the same events.