People who live with animals, or "pets," have a special relationship with them — and probably anthropomorphize them more than those who do not have intimate relationships with animals. I myself wonder just how much credit I give my cats that they don't deserve.
Then I see Khan sitting by the door when I return from my run so he doesn't miss me (or, really, his soft food that he gets every morning). I see Cisco tread carefully on the bed to see how I am feeling when I am sick or sad. I watch them, listen to them and know that while they may not have my same thought process or frame of reference, something is going on in their brains that allows them to analyze the situation.
Garth Stein lets Enzo show us the inner workings of devoted dog's brain in The Art of Racing in the Rain. The title does not refer to what I had expected, which that was a nice surprise.
When we first meet Enzo, the narrator, he is at the end of his long life. He gives us clues as to what has happened in his decade of life, little tidbits of who we might meet (or not), and a glimpse into his interests. (Yes, Enzo's interests. You'd be amazed.)
Through the course of the novel, Enzo unfolds for us the story of his life, which is the story of his family, the human who adopted him and the people who come along in his life. We meet Denny Swift, a race car driver who adopts the puppy Enzo from a farm in Washington. We meet Eve, who marries Denny. We are present at the birth of Denny and Eve's daughter, Zoë.
Stein captures with clarity and affection the relationship people have with their animals. Each family member has a different relationship with Enzo and each tell him what they will tell no one else. If you can't tell your dog your greatest fears, hopes, dreams and truths, you shouldn't have a dog — and in this story, it is clear that the Swift family should have a dog.
Enzo meets plenty of people who probably shouldn't have dogs, and many who should. He does not judge all people, but he does have opinions about those he knows. We meet all of the people who are in Denny's life, including his in-laws (whom Enzo calls the Twins), Denny's friends and co-workers, and the Swifts' extended family.
There are many lovely, light moments, when a dog loves being a dog. (Denny is a race car driver. Need I say more?) There are dark and terrible moments, when loss eclipses love, when people — and animals — react the only way they know how. Through it all, Enzo remains a reliable narrator, honest and observant. And he is observant in ways humans aren't, which provides an excellent dimension to the story. He offers the good and the bad, which is only fair, despite — or perhaps because of — his stalwart loyalty to his master and his family. When he is not privy to information or experiences firsthand, he reveals what he finds out from whom and how. (Readers may find themselves more judicious when speaking in front of others after Enzo reveals how keenly some around them may listen.)
I dread most "animal stories" with the animal as a narrator because they are terrible. The animals often act like or are treated like humans in the story, a betrayal of both the animal and humans. Animals are not humans, and Enzo (and Stein) never make that blunder of confusion. Enzo'a observations are true to character.
My friend Kathy warned me to have tissues ready at the end. I kept them nearby from the beginning, which for me was a good thing. It is not maudlin, but lovely and true, and good for all readers — even dog lovers of a tender heart who avoid books like these.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for everyone, no matter their relationship with dogs.