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Art of Racing in the Rain (Stein)

The Art of Racing in the Rain 
Garth Stein, 2008
HarperCollins
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061537967


Summary 
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: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoe, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoe at his side. 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 he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life...as only a dog could tell it. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Los Angelos, California, USA
Reared—Seattle, Washington
Education—B.A., M.F.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in Seattle, Washington


Garth Stein, a former documentary film maker, was co-producer of the Academy Award-winning short film, The Lunch Date, and director of When Your Head's Not a Head, It's a Nut. He is the author of three novels, How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, Raven Stole the Moon, and The Art of Racing in the Rain , and a play, Brother Jones. He lives in Seattle with his family. (From the publisher.)

Extras
From a 2008 Barnes & Noble interview:

I've climbed Mt. Rainier
I've explored the deepest cave in North America
I've acted with Carol Channing
I've ridden my bicycle to Alaska
I've met Bill Clinton
I've played basketball with Slick Watts
I've bathed in the Dead Sea, piloted a boat in the Suez Canal
I've paddled an outrigger in the Java Sea
I've fathered three sons whom I love very, very much.

What book most inspired his life as a writer?

Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. Actors must make clear and definite decisions at every turn about a character's intention, desires, and needs. A writer must assume the role of each actor in the story. A writer must know everything about every character in his writing. There are no accidents in fiction. Studying acting—especially this book—has greatly enhanced my writing. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, Stein's third novel offers an answer. Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoe, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo remains his most steadfast if silent supporter. Enzo is a reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability. Much like Denny, however, Stein is able to salvage some dignity from the over-the-top drama.
Publishers Weekly


Enzo narrates his life story, beginning with his impending death. Enzo's not afraid of dying, as he's seen a television documentary on the Mongolian belief that a good dog will reincarnate as a man. Yes, Enzo is a dog. And he belongs to Denny: husband, father, customer service technician. Denny's dream is to be a professional race-car driver, and Enzo recounts the triumphs and tragedies—medical, financial, and legal—they share in this quest, the dangers of the racetrack being the least of their obstacles. Enzo ultimately teaches Denny and the reader that persistence and joie de vivre will see them through to the checkered flag. Stein (Raven Stole the Moon) creates a patient, wise, and doggish narrator that is more than just fluff and collar. This should appeal to fans of both dogs and car racing; recommended for public libraries.
Library Journal


Stein uses a dog as narrator to clever effect in this tear-jerker about an aspiring race-car driver who suffers more woes than Job but never mistreats his dog. Lab mix Enzo believes he is different from other dogs, that he has a human soul in a dog body. Enzo is frustrated that he can use only "gestures" to communicate with his beloved owner Denny. Denny works in a Seattle auto-repair shop to earn money to race. Enzo watches racing channels on TV, soaking up facts and lore. Dog and man are happy in their bachelor Eden. Enter Eve. She and Enzo are wary at first. Then she goes into labor while Denny's away racing and she keeps Enzo beside her. Enzo adores the baby, Zoe, but he soon smells that something is off with Eve. By the time Zoe is a toddler, Eve has increasingly bad headaches but refuses to see a doctor until it's too late. Now come the travails. During Eve's painful, lingering death, her parents, who have never approved of Denny, loom increasingly large. When Eve dies, they sue for permanent custody of Zoe. Their case is weak until Denny is charged with rape: After a reunion of Eve's family shortly before her death, Denny gave a ride home to Eve's 15-year-old cousin, who attempted to seduce him; he rebuffed her but Enzo was the only witness. Eve's evil parents are behind the trumped-up charges. Noble Denny keeps fighting for Zoe, living by his mantra, "That which you manifest is before you." When he almost buckles, Enzo provides some rather unique assistance. Pointedly inspirational.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Some early readers of the novel have observed that viewing the world through a dog's eyes makes for a greater appreciation of being human. Why do you think this is?

2. Enzo's observations throughout the novel provide insight into his world view. For example:

—"The visible becomes inevitable."
—"Understanding the truth is simple. Allowing oneself to experience it, is often terrifically difficult."
—"No race has ever been won in the first corner; many races have been lost there."

How does his philosophy apply to real life?

3. In the book's darkest moments, one of Zoe's stuffed animals—the zebra—comes to life and threatens him. What does the zebra symbolize?

4. Can you imagine the novel being told from Denny's point of view? How would it make the story different?

5. In the first chapter, Enzo says: "It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human." How does Enzo's situation—a human soul trapped in a dog's body—influence his opinions about what he sees around him? How do you feel about the ideas of reincarnation and karma as Enzo defines them?

6. Do you find yourself looking at your own dog differently after reading this novel?

7. In the book, we get glimpses into the mindset and mentality of a race car driver. What parallels can you think of between the art of racing and the art of living?

8. The character of Ayrton Senna, as he is presented in the book, is heroic, almost a mythic figure. Why do you think this character resonates so strongly for Denny?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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