Tag Archives: The Art of Racing in the Rain

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).

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Read Roam

Roam is a novel by Alan Lazar about a lost dog.   As summarized by the Sacramento Bee:  “Nelson is half-poodle, half-beagle and a natural-born wanderer.   One day he roams too far from home and his beloved owner, Katey, and finds himself lost.   His determined odyssey of trying to reunite (with Katey) spans eight adventurous years.”

According to the official synopsis from Simon and Schuster:  “Roam follows Nelson on his eight-ear stray from home, until one day he is miraculously reunited with his family.   Through it all, Nelson maintains his optimistic spirit and unflagging yearning for the Great Love, his first owner, a concert pianist named Katey.   He never stops longing for her, and she in turn never stops searching for him.”

Bookpage said that, “(Roam) will likely be added to bookshelves that include titles like Dewey the Library Cat, The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.”   Publisher’s Weekly added, “Nelson’s adventures on the fringe are fascinating…  a touching page-turner…”

I think that anyone who loved Huck: The Remarkable True Story of…  One Lost Puppy by Janet Elder (Broadway, $15.00, 301 pages; also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download) will also probably like or love Roam.   You can click on the link below to read the first chapter of Roam: A Novel with Music by author-composer Alan Lazar.

http://alanlazar.com/roam-chapter1.pdf

Roam: A Novel by Alan Lazar (Atria Books, $22.00, 336 pages).   Also available in e-book editions (Kindle and Nook Book),  and as an unabridged audiobook read by Patrick Lawlor.

Joseph Arellano

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One Good Dog (a preview)

One Good Dog is a novel by Susan Wilson that was released today on St. Martin’s/Macmillan.   We haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but writer Rita Mae Brown says, “One good dog equals one great book!”   And here’s what Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain says:  “One Good Dog is a wonderful novel:  a moving, tender and brilliantly crafted story about two fighters – one a man, one a dog – hoping to leave the fight behind, who ultimately find their salvation in each other.   Susan Wilson’s clear and unflinching style is perfectly suited for her story that strips away the trappings and toys we all hide behind, and exposes our essential need to give and accept love in order to thrive.”

Here is the way One Good Dog opens:

He was a rough-looking thing.   Big ears, wiry hair.   His muzzle just beginning to grizzle.   He looked like the sort who’d been living outside of society for a while, maybe never really been a companion.   After a long parade of supplicants appearing before me, each wanting me to choose him or her, their noses pressed up to the chain-link fence that separated us, there was something in this one’s deep brown eyes, not a pleading – pleading I can overlook – but something else.   A quiet dignity, maybe even an aloofness, as if he really didn’t need me or my kind being nice to him.   Yes.   That was it, a haughtiness that declared he needed no one’s pity; he shouldn’t even be here.   Don’t look at me; I’m only here by coercion.

Our eyes met and held, but then he turned away.   Beta to my alpha.   But in that brief gaze, I saw something I recognized.   Maybe it was just that I saw my own independent streak, the one that has kept me on top.   Or the eyes of a fighter down on his luck, but with memories of recent glory.   Maybe I saw that underneath the rough exterior lay a heart, like mine, not entirely hard.   You’ve got to be tough to live in the world, whether your lip is curled in real anger or fear aggression, you have to be ready to carry out the threat.   This battle-scarred fella understood that, and on that basis I made my decision.   He was the one for me.

So I wagged my tail.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Bittersweet Story

hotel kindle

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Books, $15.00, 301 pages)

“Sometimes you just have to go for it.   Try for what’s hardest to accomplish.”

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a charming tale about what’s hardest to accomplish – accepting the choices one has made in life.   The story is about Henry Lee, a Chinese-American boy who attends a white school in Seattle during World War II.   There he meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American girl (born in the U.S.A.) who becomes the love of his life before she’s taken away to an internment camp.   Henry vows to wait forever for Keiko’s return only to marry another – the mother of his son – while thinking each day about what’s happened to the beautiful Keiko.

Life goes on until 1986 when the long-closed Panama hotel – a place where Japanese-Americans lived in the 1940’s – is scheduled for renovation.   Then things are found…  things which belonged to the families that were forced to leave with only a single bag per family member.   These events prompt Henry to re-examine his life and his choices and to commit himself to finally finding Keiko.

The author Jamie Ford is himself Chinese-American (his great grandfather was Min Chung, a miner who came to the U.S. in 1865) and well describes the tenets of Chinese and Japanese culture.   His writing is often inspiring and philosophical:   “Henry understood.   Honestly he did.   He knew what it was like to leave something behind.   To move on and live the future and not relive the past.”   But this well-publicized first novel would have benefited from a better job of editing.   At one point, the adult Henry’s wife is quite ill and their son wants Henry to place her in a hospice.   Henry refuses and elects to take care of her at home and with the assistance of in-home (visiting) hospice workers.   But then we read that the dying Ethel wants to “leave this place” and go home.   Clearly there’s confusion here and in a few other places in the book.   (The son supposedly reads about his  mother’s death on the internet while he’s in college in 1986.)

Nonetheless, this is a quite worthwhile read.   Like The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz, it takes us away from the standard American family we typically read about and places us among those with different values and belief systems.   Having grown up among Japanese and Chinese-Americans, I know that so much of what Ford has written here rings absolutely true.

I generally attempt to avoid quoting the remarks of others about a particular book but author Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain) said of Hotel, “(This is) a tender and satisfying novel set in a time and place lost forever.”   True, and this novel is a satisfying celebration of life and living.   It reminds us that “beautiful endings (can) still be found at the end of cold, dreary days.”

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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).

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized