Tag Archives: Enzo the dog

Baby Driver

the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein (Harper Perennial, $14.99, 321 pages)

There are certain books you look back on, years later, and think, "That was some story!" This is one of those books. It is a touching, emotional story made all the more so because its narrator is a dog facing his approaching death. As the story begins, Enzo the dog is ready to accept his fate; in fact, in a way he welcomes it because he believes – based on what he observed on a public television documentary, that his soul will then be freed to return to life as a human being. Enzo's lifelong study of these creatures with opposable thumbs and the ability to speak clearly has convinced him that he'll do quite well in his next life.

While this story will leave you with a warm and fuzzy heart (and moist eyes) at the conclusion, it is filled with a lot of the negative things that can happen to people in this life… Which is why the tale includes stops at a jail, a criminal courtroom, a hospital, and a cemetery. Even two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through you'll begin to doubt that there can be such a thing as a happy conclusion to this dog-gone tale. But hang in there, reader, because author Garth Stein begins pulling the rabbits out of his writing hat in the very last pages; with this, his writing takes on a certain special quality. Let's call it the ability to fashion a sparkling magical mystery trip.

As with Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., you won’t see the ending coming until it’s upon you. And as with Everything…, there’s a fake ending followed by a reprise (or slight return as per Jimi Hendrix) that ties everything together. Maybe. Or maybe the final ending isn’t what it seems to be. This is something that will keep you thinking for a few days after finishing this novel.

I hope and pray that if this fictional tale is made into a movie they don’t change a thing – The Time Traveler’s Wife, anyone? – including maintaining Enzo as the story’s narrator. Now, let’s see, who would be the ideal voice of Enzo? Me, I hear Nicolas Cage when I think of Enzo, but that’s just me. As Enzo would say (or bark out), “I know a lot about a lot of things, but I don’t know everything about everything.”

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

If you read and enjoy The Art of Racing in the Rain, you will likely also enjoy reading the fun and marvelous Walking in Circles Before Lying Down: A Novel by Merrill Markoe. It’s another fine feast for dog lovers, available as a trade paperback book (Villard, $13.95, 288 pages).

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A Shaggy Dog

I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson (Algonquin, April 2010)

This reviewer had such high hopes for this novel, a “love story” by Pete Nelson.   Like many readers, I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and hoped that this would be a worthy follow-up in the same genre.   In Stein’s book the animal protagonist is Enzo the dog; a dog whose thoughts can be heard by his race car driving owner.   Enzo is old and looking forward to his passing so that he can be reincarnated as a human being.   In Nelson’s book the featured animal is Stella the dog; a dog who can speak to her owner Paul Gustavson.   Stella is old and mostly immobile; she is fully prepared for her upcoming last trip to the vet.   Are the similarities a bit obvious?

I Thought You Were Dead starts off as a truly hilarious story due to Stella’s wise, sarcastic and biting voice.   The dog realizes that her divorced owner is pretty much a loser – he’s a hack writer who writes for the Moron series of books (like The Moron’s Guide to Nature, Paul’s current assignment).   Paul has a girlfriend, Tamsen, who takes out insurance in the form of a second boyfriend.   Paul might as well have the Beatles’ song “I’m A Loser” playing in the background of his life.

Stella’s spirit keeps the reader glued to the story until the point at which her health takes a turn for the worse, although it is not a fatal turn.   Because Stella looks at life as something to be enjoyed and valued in times of good health, she does not desire to hang around as something to be pitied when she drops stool around the house and has to be carried up and down the stairs.   In this, as in other things, she’s wiser than her owner.   Stella, in her wisdom, eventually convinces Paul that he must set up an appointment for her to be euthanized.

It is at the point of Stella’s sad death that the novel pretty much comes to an end.   Oh, Nelson continues it with a secondary plot about Paul’s father having a stroke and Paul having to come to terms with his past in order to understand his future.   Right…  It seems that Paul’s father crashed a family car when Paul and his siblings were young and tragedy ensued, a fact that everyone must deal with again for reasons that are not quite clear.   Paul is supposed to learn a great lesson when his father, recovering from a stroke, tells him not to drink.

One wonders if something happened in the author’s life that is being revealed here as a form of catharsis?   If so, it wouldn’t be the first time an author wrestled with his past in the form of thinly disguised fictional events.   In the forthcoming book The Mentor: A Memoir, Tom Grimes admits to including a factual incident in a novel he wrote – the night his father crashed the family automobile, “drunk and doing ninety.”

The family story in Dead feels like a secondary plot that was tacked on as the author could not decide what to write about once Stella the dog was removed from the spotlight in this novel.   It’s unfortunate as the glue lines attaching the funny and overly downcast plots are almost visible.   With Stella gone, the story limps painfully and overly slowly along to a conclusion – a disappointing one – that will come too late for the average reader.

There are some who criticize Anna Quindlen (unfairly in my eyes) for what they view as her slow and detached style.   Quindlen’s latest family novel, Every Last One, virtually soars compared to the final few plodding chapters of Dead.

Joseph Arellano

Take Away:   This one starts off as cute as a puppy before it turns into an old tired dog of a story.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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We have a winner!

Art of racing 4Joanne Long’s entry was the one picked out by Munchy using his sharp claws.   Congratulations to Joanne who has won a new trade paperback copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain!   Go, Enzo!

Now we just need to wait for Joanne to send us a mailing address so that Munchy can ship it to her.

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Baby Driver: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Art of racing 6There are certain books you look back on, years later, and think, “That was some story!”   This is one of those books.   It is a touching, emotional story made all the more so because its narrator is a dog facing his approaching death.   As the story begins, Enzo the dog is ready to accept his fate; in fact, in a way he welcomes it as he believes – based on what he observed on a public television documentary – that his soul will then be freed to return to life as a human being.   Enzo’s  life-long study of these creatures with opposable thumbs and the ability to speak clearly has convinced him that he’ll do quite well in his next life.

While this story will leave you with a warm and fuzzy heart (and moist eyes) at the conclusion, it is filled with a lot of the negative things that can happen to people in this life…  which is why the tale includes stops at a jail, a criminal courtroom, a hospital, and a cemetery.   Even two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through you’ll begin to doubt that there can be such a thing as a happy conclusion.   But hang in there, reader, because author Garth Stein begins pulling the rabbits out of his writing hat in the very last pages; with this, his writing takes on a magical mystery.

As with Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., you won’t see the ending coming until it’s upon you.   And as with Everything… there’s a fake ending followed by a reprise (or slight return as per Jimi Hendrix) that ties everything together.   Maybe…   Or maybe the final ending isn’t what it seems to be.   This is something that will keep you thinking for a few days after finishing this novel.

I just hope and pray that if this fictional tale is made into a movie they don’t change a single thing – The Time Traveler’s Wife, anyone? – including maintaining Enzo as the narrator.   Now, let’s see, who would be the voice of Enzo?   Me, I hear Nicholas Cage when I think of Enzo, but that’s just me.   As Enzo would say (or bark out), I know a lot about a lot of things, but not everything about everything.

Joseph Arellano

Notes: This book was purchased by the reviewer.   Also, if you read and enjoy The Art of Racing in the Rain, you will also likely enjoy reading the fun and marvelous Walking in Circles Before Lying Down: A Novel by Merrill Markoe.   It’s another fine feast for dog-lovers, now available as a trade paperback (Villard, $13.95).

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Coming Up Next…

Art of racing 4A review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

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Racing in the Rain with Enzo the Dog: A Book Giveaway

We’re going to give away a trade paperback copy of the five-star (Powell’s Books) book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.   Here’s a summary of the book as prepared by the publisher:

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs:  A philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.   Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast.   Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through…   Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure to return as a man.   A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story.

Contest Rules

We’re keeping this simple and easy.   To enter, you must be a resident of the continental United States with a mailing address that may (unlike the case in most contests) include a P.O. box.   Send your entries to josephsreviews@gmail.com  by Friday, September 4, 2009.   To be entered once in this contest, send in your name and e-mail address; the latter will only be used to contact you if you are the winner.   To be entered a second time, send in the name of your all-time favorite or current pet and indicate what type of animal this is (dog, cat, bird, etc.).

All entries received by the end of the day on September 4th will be placed in a very large and inexpensive plastic container and Munchy the Norwegian Forest Cat will pick out the winner – using his very sharp claws – on the following weekend.   The winner will be notified via e-mail on Monday, September 7, 2009.art of racing

That’s it.   Good luck and good reading!

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