Written by Kristin Oakley
The In Print Writers as Readers Book Club found “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein to be a quick read. Three of our members thoroughly enjoyed the book while two were indifferent. One thought the book was predictable and had a hard time connecting with the characters.
We discussed many aspects of Stein’s writing including point of view, metaphors and philosophical sayings, characterization, and description and plot development.
Point of View
In “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” Stein’s evocative use of the dog, Enzo, as the narrator gave Stein the opportunity to highlight human nature absurdities from a non-human point of view. Overall, this made it easier to tackle challenging concepts like aging, death, mortality and reincarnation because Stein left behind human bias. For instance, Enzo’s take on death:
“People speak of a will to live. They rarely speak of a will to die. Because people are afraid of death. Death is dark and unknown and frightening. But not for me. It is not the end.”
Stein took the familiar and examined it from a stranger’s eyes. One of our favorite passages was:
“Here’s why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly. It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street.”
We talked about how books such as “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn and “A Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein also use this technique.
One of our members said that she would have preferred reading the book from other characters’ perspectives to gain a better understanding of those characters.
Metaphors and Philosophical Sayings
Stein used metaphors successfully. Car racing was a metaphor for many things including anticipating the next challenge and racing in the rain was a metaphor for handling difficult situations. A philosophical saying Enzo repeats throughout the book is: “That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.” We appreciated both the metaphors and the philosophical sayings as they led to some interesting discussions.
We appreciated that the characters in the book were flawed, as all characters should be. For instance, Enzo couldn’t communicate effectively and couldn’t warn Eve about her illness. One member felt that Enzo’s persistence in trying to communicate throughout the book but lack of persistence when it came to Eve’s health was an error. Others disagreed pointing to the strained relationship between Enzo and Eve. Denny’s flaws were his naïveté and single-mindedness which led to the custody battle. Eve’s fear of doctors and hospitals may have led to her death.
According to Enzo:
“The true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles–preferably of his own making–in order to triumph. A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.”
Several members thought the characters lacked depth and we all agreed that Denny’s in-laws were stereotypically evil, though we didn’t think that was necessarily a flaw in the book.
Description and Plot Development
Generally, Stein’s descriptions relate directly to the fact that Enzo is a dog. For example, when Eve bent over to give Enzo food, Enzo “detected a bad odor, like rotting wood, mushrooms, decay. Wet, soggy decay. It came from her ears and her sinuses. There was something inside Eve’s head that didn’t belong.”
However, several of our members thought that Garth’s description of the courtroom scene through Enzo’s eyes was contrived, melodramatic, and unnecessary. And there were two underdeveloped situations which needed better transitions: Eve’s refusal to go to the hospital and Denny’s relationship with his parents. Stein never explains Eve’s fear of the medical community and when Denny’s parents finally show up late in the book, it’s as if they’re just dropped into the story.
As writers, we admitted that writing sex scenes and sexual assault scenes is difficult, but we thought that Stein handled these scenes well and not pruriently. We also liked Stein’s concise language.
We wondered about Garth Stein. We assumed that he must be an animal lover because of his great insights into dogs. We also thought that he had some familiarity with death as it is described so accurately. Finally, we wondered whether Stein was interested in auto racing before he wrote the book or decided upon this as an interesting profession for Denny and then did his detailed research.
It was a lively discussion! Several of us are looking forward to reading more Garth Stein books.