The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008) by Garth Stein was, I think, the 2011 choice for the "One Book One Denver" program that started back in 2004. I like the idea of encouraging reading and I've read all the books they've chosen for this program, including: The Thin Man, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and Caramelo as well as some others. It usually leads me to reading books that I would not have otherwise found, and I appreciate the change. I found The Art of Racing in the Rain to be a sweet, quiet story that was hard to put down.
The beginning of the novel begins with Enzo, near death, and telling the story of his life, and through him, the lives of his owners. Enzo is chosen by his new owner, car mechanic Denny Swift, when he is just a puppy. Enzo and Denny's life changes when Denny falls in love with and marries Eve, and they start a family. The family goes through a number of especially tough times and betrayals--all told through Enzo.
I read some reviews, and I think it's a fair critique, that Enzo is often not a recognizable dog. Stein just called him a dog and then voiced all of his own personal likes, dislikes, and world views through him. I wondered why we were supposed to give more weight to Enzo's opinion when he didn't seem much different from any human. Almost all of his knowledge is gained from watching television. Thus, even though there are some meaningful snippets, as far as a book that will show you the meaning of life, I don't think this is the one.
"Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories."
"To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I will live my life."
However, in the simple telling of a family drama, this book worked for me. I got sucked into Enzo's life and started caring about the characters. There are moments in the book where everything just clicks. Enzo's ongoing struggle to communicate with his owners is surprisingly relatable and Denny's loneliness hurt my heart. I was sitting on the bus crying when I read about Enzo's death. I know this has a lot to do with dredging up the pain of my own dog dying, but I thought it was well done. This novel is more than just a cute story about a dog; it digs a little deeper and makes you feel a little more. However, it does require some suspension of critical thinking and abandoning yourself to the story.