Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Pages: 321
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: May 5, 2008
Publisher: Harper Collins
Source: Personal Copy

As an animal lover, I try to stay away from any book that revolves around or is narrated by them. Usually, either old age or a tragedy occurs, resulting in the death of the animal, and I (having two pups myself) become a sobbing wreck. That combined with the knowledge that this book was heavily promoted by Starbucks in their stores kept me away. However, after reading so many great reviews both online and off, and finding a copy at a used bookstore for $1, I had a change of heart.

Now, in the name of full disclosure, I was tearing up by the end of chapter one. Enzo, a wiry-coated terrier/lab mix, begins recalling the events of his life on the eve of his death. Reflecting back on a documentary about Mongolia that Enzo saw on television, he finds comfort in the knowledge that Mongolians believe "when a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man," and he will finally have the ability to speak and grasp things with an opposable thumb. Far from being sad, he longs to live as a human, and looks forward to his next life. 

Through one long flashback, we learn about Enzo and the people in his life. He lives with Denny (an auto mechanic and sometimes race car driver who adopts him from a farm at an early age), Eve and Zoe in a
small house that isn't in the best neighborhood. Without spoiling anything, there are many ups and downs over the years in the lives of Enzo and his family, bringing about the major events that occur later in the book. I must say, I absolutely adored Stein's characterization of Enzo. He's smart and observant with a very philosophical tone to his introspections, and when it comes to his family he is fiercely loyal. However, one thing I did notice was that Enzo seemed to know things that he hadn't been taught, such as how to read. In one part of the book he makes a reference to the alphabet that I found unrealistic, "Whereas Mark Fein was a letter B, this new one was a letter L." Dogs are relatively smart, but I don't think they could learn the alphabet and be able to differentiate letters. Although, I've accepted the fact that a dog is narrating a book, so I guess the letter thing can be overlooked.

While I didn't understand some of the racing jargon and felt like some of the racing-centric chapters were a little confusing and unnecessary, the way Enzo incorporated a lot of Denny's racing techniques and principles into his own life was very endearing. One main lesson is the idea that a driver can control what he initiates but not what he must react to. When life starts to worsen for Denny, he is tempted to throw in the towel, but this lesson plus Enzo's constant companionship help him through his tough times. Even though Denny was portrayed as a little too perfect, he is definitely a protagonist you want to have a happy ending. Do I think the secondary story could have survived on its own as a separate novel? No, and maybe that's why the author went with a dog as a narrator. Many of the characters were not complex or fully developed, and felt like they were only written to fulfill a single purpose.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it is ultimately an uplifting book. The love shared between dog and owner made me smile, and the way Denny talked to Enzo, treating him as an equal, was charming. The novel seemed to underscore how differently humans act around one another and how often we censor our thoughts and actions, yet with our animals we feel free to be ourselves knowing they will love us unconditionally. After much hesitation, I'm glad that I decided to give this book a chance. 

Rating: 4/5


  1. Like you I also try to stay away from novels like Auster's Timbuktu or Marley & Me... and I don't even have a dog!

  2. I think my mom would love this book for mother's day. She is a huge dog fan and this sounds like it has a little twist.

  3. loved the audio version of this one. Enzo's voice still resonates with me 3 years later....LOL

  4. Alexandra - I haven't read Marley & Me, nor have I seen the movie. I just don't think my tear ducts could handle it!

    Amused - I think this would make a great book gift. It's an easy read, and has a different voice than a lot of animal narrated fiction.

    Diane - Enzo's voice is definitely memorable! I'm still thinking about it days later, and I've recommended it to lots of family members.

  5. I loved this book! I thought the narration was unique enough to carry the whole story, and I also loved all the racing techniques. I've read other reviews criticizing the ending, but I thought it was adorable.

  6. Brooke - I liked the ending as well. Was it a little too convenient? Yes, but I think it was fitting. Enzo deserved to have his happy ending!


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