Tag Archives: reincarnation

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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Love You To

A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron (Tor Forge; $22.00; 320 pages)

“And the people who hide themselves/ Behind a wall of illusion/ Never Glimpse the truth/ Then it’s far too late/ When they pass away.”   George Harrison (“Within You Without You”)

A Dog’s Purpose is a 320-page novel targeted for adults.   This is a story of a dog named Toby who dies and is reborn as Bailey, then becomes the female Ellie and finally Buddy.   It is a novel on the subject of reincarnation that will not convince anyone that it actually happens, but it’s told in a charming voice.   The dog’s voice, no matter which of the four dogs is being portrayed (and regardless of age) is that of a non-threatening and generally naive pup which is why children will identify with it.

Had this been truly written for adults, it would have been better structured as a novella.   It goes on too long to make the rather simple point that love between humans and their pets is always reciprocated.   Any child who has loved stories like My Dog Spot will likely be enchanted with this one, but the adult reading it to a child is best advised to break it into 40 or so digestible bites.

Any they lived happily ever after, and were reborn again and again and again.   Woof!

Take Away:   This novel, sold as a childlike story for adults, is actually a long children’s story that might be read to children by adults.   There are, however, dozens and dozens of great children’s books currently available, any one of which might be a better choice.     

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

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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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The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist by M.J.  Rose (MIRA)

“(W)hat I thought was missing her has really been the part of me that loved her like that.”

Author M.J. Rose has the ability to gently pull her reader into a web of intrigue.   Once begun, this tale unfolds magically and then it’s too late to turn back or put the book down.   The Hypnotist is the third in The Reincarnationist series.   Rose’s subtle character development allows the reader to move through time with the main character, an FBI agent specializing in the recovery of stolen art.   The plot provides a charming mix of Middle Eastern political intrigue, family dynamics, museum culture and, of course, the notion of reincarnation.   The premise of the story is that the power to control people is more valuable than money.   In this case control is mind control.

Many of the characters are portrayed with both physical attributes and realistic medical conditions.   It is refreshing to read about someone who is a thoughtful, intelligent older woman who, by the way, has multiple sclerosis.   However, not all of the characters are so well conceived.   The mercenaries – and there are quite a few of them – are stereotypically heartless and greedy, lacking any real dimension.

M.J. Rose is at her best when providing reverential descriptions of art works, primarily paintings and sculpture.   Clearly, she has a comfortable working knowledge of daily life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.   She fills the museum with wide-eyed elementary school children playing among the exhibits that occupy the public spaces and quirky curators and restorers who work their magic behind the scenes in the depths of the immense building.

The author’s disarmingly soothing voice works to her advantage when she explores the notion of reincarnation.   She draws the reader into a complex mix of reality and imagination that spans time and location.   The Hypnotist relies on a dreamlike romanticism for its charm.   Many chapters begin with thought-provoking quotes regarding energy, souls and afterlife.   The most compelling scenes are the ones in which the action is served to the reader using pragmatic, low-key descriptions of horrific actions in the past and present.

M.J. Rose is a very skillful storyteller.   No wonder Fox Television will soon have a show based on the premise of this series of her books.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An advance review copy was provided by MIRA Books.

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