The Art of Racing in the Rain was recommended to me by an associate at Barnes & Nobel who sold it on the fact that one of the local high-schools banned it because the premise relies heavily on the belief that dogs have souls. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that their official reason (there is a criminal case involving underage sex) is in fact the truth- even if the sex in question is about 3 sentences long.
“I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known that there’s something about me that’s different than other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.”
Enzo is a Labrador mix who believes he has a human soul and when he dies he will leave his dog body and be reborn as a human. At the end of his life (yes badkittyuno, the dog dies), Enzo reflects on his life for the reader.
Enzo is adopted by Denny, a mechanic who aspires to be a race car driver. Denny is a single man when he first brings Enzo home, but he eventually meets and marries Eve; together they have a daughter named Zoe and the four of them become a family. Denny gets a few racing commitments and leaves sporadically throughout his marriage to Eve; this causes a few marital arguments but most importantly it means that Denny is not around to notice a deterioration in Eve’s health. Eve succumbs to her disease and the aftermath of her death is really what The Art of Racing in the Rain is about.
Enzo has a limited (which allows the author to gloss over some of the legal aspects of the story) view of the events that transpire following the loss of Denny’s wife. Most notably, a bitter battle for custody between Denny and his in-laws for Zoe. I could have done without the racing, ironic given the title, because it seems extraneous once you get into the meat of the novel.
The book pulls on your heartstrings; you feel for the crappy situation Denny is in but at the same time I didn’t particularly like Denny so I was more worried about how his predicament would affect Enzo. In the end, The Art of Racing in the Rain felt like it wanted to be greater than it was, but existential themes and moral ambiguity aside, it isn’t a particularly well written novel.