The Art of Racing in the Rain – Local Author

19 02 2018

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

 A Book Review by Joe Hyer

           Sometimes, we have to step back and appreciate the sheer ‘craft’ with which a master works in any medium.  An expert potter can throw clay around with what looks like careless abandon, but careful observation can tell a master is at work.  The same holds true with words, and a master wordsmith can be identified within a few pages of any novel from the countless hacks trying to be great.

Within a few pages of the beginning of The Art of Racing in the Rain, you could tell you were being guided by a master wordsmith.  To craft a story completely from the point of view of the dog takes true focus.  Reminiscent of Jay McInerney’s use of the second person voice in Bright Lights, Big City, or Bram Stoker’s brilliant shifting of perspective in Dracula.  It takes discipline.  Research.  In each chapter, in each thought that Enzo, our intrepid canine, shares has been worked and re-worked so that it’s not only plausible, but natural for the dog to speak this way.

Garth Stein with his dog Comet. Compliments of

But step back again, and you can begin to see the shape and design of the whole story arc.  We know from the opening pages one main character is going to die.  This happens on page 160 – of a 320 page novel.  Yep, exactly halfway.  While an artist might work with wild abandon, a craftsman plans, designs, measures and re-measures, to ensure perfection.  It is when you blend the art and the craft, however, that you reach some new heights.

          So it is with The Art of Racing in the Rain.  So beautiful, raw, poignant and touching that it is an emotional roller coaster.  Yet each word, sentence, thought and chapter so carefully crafted that the reader knows the author placed each piece of glass in the great mosaic with utmost care.

It is the story of a dog named Enzo, his human Denny, Denny’s wife Eve and their daughter Zoe.  It is a story of love and loss, of separation and loneliness, of unity and love.  Yes, it begins and it ends with love.  If I were to underline the key thought in the whole novel, like we tried to do in college, here it is:

That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. 

Garth and Comet posing. Compliments of

Throughout the story, life lessons are filtered through auto racing examples, and also by Enzo’s perception as a dog.  It allows the author to be distant at moments, and heart wrenchingly close at others.  The raw emotional ups and downs drive intensity, but also make us see a little respite.

And so, with a dog named Enzo, there must also be a comic side, or else the emotion would drown us.  I love Enzo’s analogy of smell-

       Summer in the Cascades is always pleasant, cool under the canopy of cedars and alders, the beaten path packed down, making long strides easy; off the beaten path- where dogs prefer- a soft and spongy bed of fallen needles that rot and feed the trees with a steady trickle of nutrients.  And the smell!

          The smell would have given me an erection if I’d still had testicles. Richness and fertility. Growth and decay and food and decay.  Waiting.  Just waiting for someone to come and smell it, lingering close to the ground in layers, each distinct scent with its own aromatic weight, its own place.

The Author’s verion of Enzo – Olympia’s own little Maq.

           As many readers must, I often saw my own little dog Maq in Enzo’s antics.  And I gained some insight into what he might be thinking in some situations.  While the author humanizes Enzo, he also ensures that at his core, Enzo is still a dog.  A dog that manages to preserve his family, despite long odds.

The Art of Racing in the Rain has sold more than 4.5 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 2009.  It has been converted to a young reader’s edition, as well as joined by several other children’s books featuring Enzo.  In 2012, Book-It Repertory Theatre translated it into a stage production that ran in Seattle.

Next week, on March 1, Harlequin Productions in Olympia will open a four-week run of the show.  Local Shows. Local Arts.  Don’t miss out.


Garth Stein. compliments of

About Garth Stein –  Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, Garth’s mother is a Tlingit native of Alaska, while his father was the child of Jewish immigrants from Austria.  After 18 years in New York, he returned to Seattle in 2001, where he currently lives with his wife, three sons, and their dog Comet.

He’s the author of three other novels – Raven Stole the Light, How Even Broke His Head and Other Secrets, and most recently A Sudden Light.  He is also the author of a full-length play, Brother Jones, premiering in Los Angeles in 2005, and was the inspiration for A Sudden Light.

He’s also co-founder of Seattle7Writers, a non-profit organization dedicated to energizing readers and writers and their communicates.