The trouble with letting a dog tell the story is that dogs are so transparent; Enzo telegraphs everything that happens well ahead of time. It's okay, though. The Art of Racing in the Rain is less about what happens than about how we respond to it.
Enzo, a Lab mix, lives happily with Denny, who aspires to be a race car driver. Enzo always knew he was different from other dogs. He relishes his time with Denny, who talks to him frankly about racing. "That which you manifest is before you," he says, describing how to keep your cool while driving in the rain.
Enzo also learns from television. From a show about Mongolia, Enzo learns that when a dog is finished with his lifetimes as a dog, he will come back next as a man. From then on, Enzo hungrily yet empathetically collects knowledge about human nature, storing it up so he can bring it back with him when he returns as a person.
But Enzo's canine limitations are frustratingly clear to him. Though he can understand, he cannot communicate. He stands by as Denny meets his soulmate, Eve, and as they raise their daughter, Zoe. When Eve falls terribly ill, Enzo knows why but is powerless to help. As Denny faces catastrophe after catastrophe, loyal Enzo can only bear witness.
Woven into the story are chapters about racing history and technique, which Enzo comes to love as much as his human does. The technique drives character and plot, and it gives author Garth Stein a chance to expound on life. When Enzo is hit by a car, Denny reassures the shaken driver, "What just happened isn't important. Let's think about what's going to happen next."
Sometimes it's a little too The Secret-ish — is everything before us really there because we manifested it? But like a dog's wet nose thrust enthusiastically into your hand, the intent — and the effect — is loving, heartfelt and true.
Kate Brassfield can be reached at (727) 893-8216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.