Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (with audiobook and book club notes)

01 Jul

The Art of Racing in the RainMy rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

While this book didn’t really work for me, I can see how it would for a slightly different reader, and might have for me in different circumstances.

Summary via

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, Zoë, 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 Zoë 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.

OK, I never bought into the wise old dog as narrator, and I felt manipulated by the series of events that take over Denny’s life… This led to me not enjoying my reading of the book.

I’ve read other books where bad thing upon bad thing happens to the characters.  I can’t say I ever really enjoy it, but it doesn’t always bother me.  Here, I felt like the author was making the character suffer in order to pull in me, the reader.  Which he was, of course.

There were enough pieces of the book that did work for me that I suspect if I’d just connected in the beginning, my final opinion would be much higher.  If I’d been a dog lover, If IEnzo had tickled my fancy, If some of the more dog-like bits of his behaviour came earlier, If I’d read the print version rather than listened, If I’d been in a different frame of mind…

But that wasn’t what happened.

Book Club Notes

I read this book with one of my book clubs. We had 8 of use that read and discussed The Art of Racing in the Rain. I think this was as widely split as I’ve seen our book club on a book.  I liked it the least, our two dog owners liked it the most (and they really enjoyed it!).  Everyone else fell somewhere in-between.  The two of us that listened were least able to connect with the dog narrator.

We had a good discussion, which was dominated by two topics:  What aspects of the dog as narrator worked and didn’t work, and which aspects of the string of terrible events were realistic, and how did we relate to them?

In the end, there were only small pieces of the plot that we didn’t find entirely plausible.  Unfortunately, we had people in the group who had seen some of these situations play out in real life– brain cancer, legal battles after a loved one dies, false accusations, and they all felt the pieces they were familiar with rang true. They were linked together in the story in a way that allowed one bad thing to flow from the last.

We were more mixed on the dog as narrator.  We all agreed that there were some wonderfully dog-like moments.  Those that connected with with Enzo early on allowed those to carry the narration, for the rest of us, these were bright spots, but it didn’t come together.

I’d thought this would be a book we’d all enjoy but that we wouldn’t find a lot to discuss.  I was wrong on both counts!

Audiobook notes

Sound Bytes @ Devourer of Books

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes

Narrator:  I actually think Christopher Evan Welch did a very good job with what was to me an impossible task– narrating as a dog.  Any attempt to sound animal-like would have had me deleting the book immediately and permanently.  His voice was expressive, and conveyed the intent of the words well, but in the end, it was a very human voice.

Production:  There was music at the beginning of some of the sections, and I didn’t care for it.  The balance of the narrator and the music wasn’t great either.  This didn’t happen often however.  Otherwise, the production was fine.

Print vs. Audio: I suspect listening to the audio made it harder for me to suspend disbelief about the dog telling the story.  I was listening to a human voice, after all.  On the other hand, if the dog had seemed more dog-like to me, maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue.  I’d recommend the print version on this one, but your opinion might vary.

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes at Devourer of Books.


Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


Tags: , , , , ,

6 responses to “Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (with audiobook and book club notes)

  1. Melissa

    July 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    I’ve never quite gotten all the hype over this one, for some reason. I’m not a dog person, so that probably has something to do with it. (A former coworker, who IS very much of a dog person, kept urging me to read this.)

  2. Literate Housewife

    July 1, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I enjoyed this novel for the most part. I read it in print. My opinion would have been much higher without that last dang chapter. Completely unnecessary. I guess that was one emotional manipulation I couldn’t forgive.

    I listened to an audiobook from Highbridge called I Thought You Were Dead and there were parts of it where the dog spoke. I found it very effective. There was a good bit of humor in that book that was laking here. That can make a big difference, too.

  3. bookmagic

    July 2, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I am a dog person but this book has never made by tbr list, the reviews are too mixed plus I’m always afraid there will be something sad with the dog

  4. LSH

    July 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I just listened to the audiobook with my partner and we enjoyed every minute of it on a very long drive. I am a dog person, he is not and yet we both enjoyed it equally. I will eventually read the print version as well.

    Bookmagic; I had been avoiding it for the same reason as you, but in my opinion, it is well worth the few heart string tugs.


  5. Jen - Devourer of Books

    July 2, 2011 at 11:14 am

    You are pretty much supporting my decision to stay away from dog books, here.

  6. Ann

    July 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I wanted to like this book, but I found the bombardment of emotional disasters too much to take.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: