The Art of Racing in the Rain:Book Review

October 27, 2016

ONCE in a blue moon, you come across a book that makes you want to jump out of your socks and float in the air. “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, by Garth Stein, is one such book.

The title is innocuous, and if I saw the book in a library or bookstore, I wouldn’t pick it up, not being a racing fan. However, someone at my office recommended it, and once I read the first few pages I was hooked.

The first thing to grab my attention was the fact that the narrator is a dog. This is, of course, a literary device that has been used before – The Book Thief is a good example, with death as the narrator. However, Garth Stein’s book is a much easier read, and the action just carries you along. It is a deep book, full of philosophical insights.

Re-incarnation is very much part of the theme; the premise behind the book is the belief, in some cultures, that dogs can be re-incarnated as human beings in their next existence. I can easily relate to this belief because a famous Indian saint once told me that dogs are very close to Lord Shiva. It is probably not a co-incidence that a dog is called man’s best friend. In many ways, good dogs are perfected human beings. They are always loyal to their master, very protective of humans, they observe a lot and don’t speak at all. They are child-like in their simplicity and they eat whatever food is offered to them lovingly.

The core message of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is enshrined in a single phrase “That which you manifest is before you”. The entire book can be taken as an explanation of this concept.

Garth Stein explains it in car racing terms.  “Drivers are afraid of the rain. 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 are reacting at speed, you are reacting too late. If I intentionally make the car do something then I can predict what it is going to do. In other words, it is unpredictable only when I am not possessing it.”

The racing car is used as a metaphor for life. You are the driver of your body and what you manifest is before you. This concept works at so many levels and in so many of the situations encountered in this book.

The story line for the book is fairly straightforward. The dog, Enzo, has a master Denny who is an enthusiastic race car driver. Since Denny is following his passion, he doesn’t make too much money. His wife Eve, is very loving but comes from a rich family. Denny can never measure up to the expectations of his rich in-laws, who look down on him. During the course of the book, Eve conceives, and they have a baby daughter Zoe. Enzo remains very protective of the entire family.

Eve develops a serious medical condition, she is troubled by recurring headaches that progressively get worse and worse. The doctors diagnose her, and once she accepts her diagnosis, her fate is sealed. She has already manifested what lies ahead for her.

A critical moment in the book is a trip that Denny takes to meet some of his wife’s relative. It is an awkward gathering, in a place called Methow Valley, a few hours’ drive from Seattle. There he meets Annika a fifteen year old girl who seems to have a crush on him. It is obvious that, according to Enzo,it is Annika who is doing all the chasing, contriving situations where she and Denny could be thrown together. She contrives a situation where she gets to drive back to Seattle with Denny and Enzo. The weather is really bad, and they can only make it to Denny’s apartment. Annika’s house is a little further away. They spend the night at the apartment, and Annika gets very bold, and wants to have sex with him. He spurns the offer, saying he is a married man, but there are no witnesses to this exchange other than Enzo.

Later, after Eve passes away, her parents learn about this incident and use it as a weapon in an ugly custody battle for Zoe. In the end, Enzo saves the day for Denny; I will not give away the ending by explaining exactly how he does this. The survivors live happily ever after; Enzo gets his wish, he is reborn as a human and the story ends.

Interspersed throughout the book are great scenes that are very relatable for any who has ever owned a dog. In one scene, Enzo goes berserk after hearing about Eve’s demise and runs away into the wilderness. His grief manifests itself as anger and he attacks a squirrel viciously. Ultimately, Enzo is found by his master and they go home together. I can totally relate to this, as the same thing happened when my father died in India. We had a dog named Bully; when my father died, he ran away from home and was never seen again.

In another great scene, Enzo stays awake all night while Eve is very sick in the house. She begs Enzo to protect him. “Get me through tonight”, she says. ”Only you can protect me. Don’t let it happen tonight”. Enzo does what he is asked to do and keeps death at bay, at least for that one night.

All in all, a great read full of deep philosophical insights and a game changer for anyone who reads it seriously.

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