This book is just beautiful. So many quotable passages! Although I was a little bit disillusioned after all the hype from friends and strangers who saw me with this book, The Art of Racing in the Rain was still able to touch me and make me believe in how deeply animals are able to understand their human companions. Stein was also able to show the struggles of both his animal and human protagonists in such a realistic manner that I felt every bit of helplessness, frustration, and triumph that they felt. Add in some snark and humor, and this book will make you start talking to your dog in hopes that he’ll eventually answer you.
Enzo likes to think of himself as more of a philosopher than a dog, and he specializes in television-watching and house-sitting while his human companion, Denny Swift, is out of the house trying to get into professional race car driving. As Denny goes through his life struggling to get his career started, and finally settling down with a wife and baby and annoying parents-in-law – Enzo is there to help, learn, and make funny and wise commentary through the ups and downs.
Enzo has such a dog-philosopher mentality, and his narrative was always not-quite-human – a constant reminder of his true nature. Most of the time he’s wise and spouts off very profound thoughts, but other times he goes a little crazy with that stuffed chew toy of his. And he’s very proud of being a dog, even though he knows he’s really almost-human.
I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known that there’s something about me that’s different than other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.
He understands so much, yet so little. But no matter what he does, Enzo’s love for Denny shows through in his actions and thoughts, especially when he gives some sort of racing-related advice that he’s learned from listening to Denny talk about racing or from being in a race car himself. And I’m constantly touched and saddened at the same time by how much Enzo believes that he’ll be a human soon, because realistically, that’s not something that can happen… his innocence (or maybe ignorance?) is a breath of fresh air, but also so vulnerable.
When I return to the world, I will be a man. I will walk among you. I will lick my lips with my small, dexterous tongue. I will shake hands with other men, grasping firmly with my opposable thumbs. And I will teach all people that I know. And when I see a man or a woman or a child in trouble, I will extend my hand, both metaphorically and physically. I will offer my hand. To him. To her. To you. To the world. I will be a good citizen, a good partner in the endeaver of life that we all share.
One of the many profound thoughts that Enzo had was that “the true hero is flawed.” And Enzo’s hero, Denny, is just that – he makes mistakes, and the world around him tears open his faults and digs into his weaknesses until he can barely lift up his head. But his perseverance and dedication to his goals and beliefs are admirable, and I loved him almost as much as Enzo loved him. Flawed characters remind us that sometimes flaws come from inside, but flaws can be made from the outside too; the people around Denny aren’t always the most supportive or the most kind, but Denny’s attempt to overcome those obstacles makes him feel real.
As Denny grows older, Enzo grows older much faster than he does. But this dog never stops being amazing and supportive even at the end. I’ve never owned a dog, but Denny and Enzo’s relationship feels like the ideal pet-owner friendship.
We had a good run, and now it’s over; what’s wrong with that?
I’ve learned so much about life, dogs, and humans from this book. Stein created some pretty inspiring characters who persevered through the darkest moments of their lives, and sometimes it takes a non-human character to show you how magical or strange human behavior can be. The Art of Racing in the Rain reminds me a bit of Matt Haig’s The Humans, and if you’d like some valuable life lessons from a very smart dog, The Art of Racing in the Rain is it.