Thursday, June 19, 2008
Book Review: The Art Of Racing In The Rain
By Garth Stein
© 2008 Bruce White Light, LLC
Death has been on my mind a lot lately; whether it was Jon's late sermon prompted by the Vin Scully/John Wooden lecture and interview, the slow downward spiral of our two dogs to cancer's life-sapping effects, or oil depletion causing high energy prices that slowly strangle the economy, and perhaps, our civilization, things coming to an end seem to dominate my internal dialogue. The timing was therefore not a little propitious that I received a recommendation from an unlikely source for Garth Stein's third novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Enzo the dog narrates the story, and when we meet him, he is on death's door; he has planned his exit from this veil, determined, as he sees it, to become a man in the next life and possess the things he has so long yearned for: an agile tongue to form words, and opposable thumbs. Learning from the television his master Denny leaves on for him, Enzo has developed an understanding of cinema, television drama — and racing. Denny aspires to be a champion automobile racer, and the book spends much of its time developing a life philosophy as viewed through that lens. "That which you manifest is before you," his instructor told him on learning to drive in the rain, the book's principle metaphor. Explaining this seeming tautology, Denny says to Enzo and his wife, Eve,
"Drivers are afraid of the rain," Denny told us. "Rain amplifies your mistakes, and water on the track can make your car handle unpredictably. When something unpredictable happens, you have to react to it; if you're reacting at speed, you're reacting too late. And so you should be afraid.Eve gives birth to a daughter, Zoë, and his racing becomes an increasing burden on the young family; he travels constantly, while she is left on her own. Presently, Eve dies, and Denny finds himself in an unexpected and bitter custody battle over Zoë with his conniving and treacherous in-laws. How he negotiates these turns, as viewed through Enzo's eyes, provides some of the best fiction I've read in years. I almost literally couldn't put this book down; the word "uplifting" is such a cliché, I hate to use it, but it's apt.
"I'm afraid just watching it," Eve said.
"If I intentionally make the car do something, then I can predict what it's going to do. In other words, it's only unpredictable if I'm not ... possessing ... it."
"So you spin the car before the car spins itself?" she asked.
"That's it! If I initiate the action — if I get the car a little loose — then I know it's going to happen before it happens. Then I can react to it before even the car knows it's happening."