The Art of Racing in the Rain

By Garth Stein, A tearjerker about a race car driver and his dog

Brief Summary
Detailed Summary
Read it or Skip It?

I always plan on reading books before the movie comes out, but this time I actually did it, yay! The movie adaptation of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing n the Rain is being released on August 9th.

I love Marley & Me, another movie about dogs and life (plus Jennifer Aniston is awesome in it), so I’m planning on seeing this one as well. This isn’t generally the type of book I like, but I thought I’d give this a shot anyway.

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is narrated by Enzo. Enzo is a dog who was adopted by a race car driver, Denny. When the book opens, Enzo is near the end of his life. He narrates the story about his life with Denny, plus Denny’s wife Eve and daughter Zoe, and everything that’s happened in their time together.

It’s a story about love, loss, triumphs, grief, family, hardships and of course racing.

See The Art of Racing in the Rain on Amazon.

Book Review

From the very first chapter, the book sets forth the uncomplicated, boundless love Enzo (the dog) has for Denny and the uncomplicated, boundless love that Denny has for Enzo. You also find out that Eve, Denny’s wife, has passed away, so that should give you some sense of where there story is going.

I went into this knowing it would be a little sappy and the dog-narrator thing was too gimmicky for my tastes and mentally prepared myself to just let it go and enjoy the story. But the questionable aspects of this book went beyond all that, and they just kept piling up.

For starters, this book shot so far past just being sappy that it started to edge into seeming emotionally manipulative.

From the sentimentality of a dog-narrated story, to the dead wife (this is not a spoiler, we find this out in the first few pages), to the plainly unfair and outrageous situation that Denny finds himself in, to the two-dimensional villains in the story, to the helpless little girl whose only desire is to see her dog and her father, to the highs and lows of car racing. The book isn’t so much trying to tug at your heartstrings as it is desperately yanking at them in a deranged fervor.

I also would’ve enjoyed the parts about racing more, except in it insists on transforming most of those parts into metaphors for extremely trite life lessons and platitudes. Learning to anticipate movements in the car is turned into a truism about embracing your own destiny, that sort of thing. Or when the book (or rather, a philosophizing dog) makes the point that in racing you have to keep going even when things get tough, just like in life, it’s all so overwhelmingly obvious.

Instead of having any type of character growth or depth (they’re all two-dimensional static characters), the book just offers up cliche after cliche in terms of the characters, the plot and any type of insight it has to offer.

The plot contrivances in this book are numerous as well. For example, there’s two fortuitous occurrences, both of which occur as nakedly Deus Ex Machina-esque events. In both instances, it’s an overly convenient way for Denny to deal with certain problems. (If you’ve read the book, I’m referring to Lucca and the scene with the father.)

Also, I didn’t get the point of the whole dog-narrator gimmick or why it was used for the story. There’s a number of parts where it made no sense for him to narrate, like scenes in a hospital or a courtroom. And, for a dog, he seems very concerned with women’s breasts. Shouldn’t he have an equal interest in male reproductive parts? Funny how that works.

There’s also some extremely problematic issues involving one of the plotlines. Most notably it perpetuates idea that women constantly lie about sexual assault. I won’t get into it, since I don’t want to spoil anything, but that’s probably what sealed this book’s fate for me.

Anyway, I told myself I’d say at least one nice thing, so I’ll add that the book is not without it’s charms. Even knowing I wasn’t into it, there were a few parts that made me smile. When Enzo makes his opinion clear by peeing all over a set of papers, I had to admit that was a pretty good scene. I’m betting that (or some variation of it) ends up in the movie.

If Enzo had spent more time doing stuff like that and less time spouting truisms and ogling women’s breasts, I probably would have had more enthusiasm for this book.

The Art of Racing In the Rain Movie Adaptation

As mentioned above, The Art of Racing In the Rain will be released in theaters on August 9, 2019. Milo Ventimiglia stars as Denny with Amanda Seyfried as Eve. You can follow its reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB.

When it comes to the movie, the thing I’m most curious about is the girl who lies about being assaulted. I’m curious if this ends up in the movie, since in a post-#metoo world this narrative may not be received well. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

art of racing in the rain

Read it or Skip it?

Clearly, I wasn’t all that into The Art of Racing in the Rain. Part of it was that I wasn’t the right reader for this book, but I also think many of the issues run deeper than that.

Still, if you like somewhat sentimental tearjerker-type books, you’ll probably be able to see past a lot of the things that bugged me about this story.

For everyone else, I’d suggest just watching the movie. My guess is that the movie is going to be charming and round out a lot of things that I didn’t like about the book. So, even though I didn’t love the book, I know I’ll be watching the movie at some point. Marley & Me is a movie that I adore, so I’m inclined to give this movie a chance too.

Are you guys going to be watching this movie, reading this book or none of the above? See The Art of Racing in the Rain on Amazon.


Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)

Chapters 1 - 5

Enzo, an old dog, waits for Denny to come home, sitting in a puddle of his own urine. Enzo cannot speak (as he is a dog), but he believes he has a human soul. He's convinced that in the next life he will be a human.

Enzo thinks it's his time and it's time for Denny to let him go. Denny is a race car driver and has a daughter. His wife passed away.

Chapters 6 - 7

Enzo then narrates his life with Denny, starting with when he was picked out of a box of puppies. While Enzo is a puppy, Denny meets Eve, and they fall for each other quickly. Denny and Eve move in together and soon get married. Before long, she is pregnant.

Enzo is two when the baby comes. Eve goes into labor on the day of an important race for Denny, the 24 Hours of Daytona. Eve cries about Denny's absence and cuddles with Enzo instead. She tells Enzo to always protect Zoe, the baby. Denny gets back in a bad mood but brightens up when he sees the baby. It turns out the driver before him wrecked the car, and he ever got to race.

After the baby comes, Denny takes a day job at an autoshop. (Denny seems to be estranged from his parents. They weren't there for the wedding or Zoe's birth.) Enzo learns to love television and considers this his education. Soon, Denny buys a house, and it's time to move. Denny soon smells a bad odor coming from Eve's brain. He knows something is wrong with her well before anyone else does.

Chapters 8 - 11

One day, Eve asks Enzo asks why he takes turns so much faster than others in the rain. He explains that he uses rain tires and also that other drivers are afraid of the rain, but he's not.

Denny gets a seat in an important race and flies to New York. On race day, Eve throws up and has a bad headache. Eve now realizes something is wrong, but thinks it's a virus. She goes to the hospital, leaving Enzo behind for days. Enzo is hungry and attacks Zoe's stuffed animals.

Denny yells at Eve for leaving Enzo by himself. Then, Denny yells at Enzo for destroying the stuffed animals. Denny won his race and is invited to join a racing team. It would be a major step forward in his racing career, but it would mean too much time away.

Chapters 12 - 23

Eve gets sicker. She doesn't want to go to the doctor, since she doesn't want pills. Denny joins the racing team, but things start off rocky, and the pit crew keeps messing up.

Things at home get tenser. Eve and Denny get into an argument when Zoe refuses to eat her chicken nuggets at dinner, and Eve cuts herself with a knife by accident. She refuses to go to the hospital. Enzo notes that she seems afraid that she'll go in and never come out. Enzo sniffs the nuggets later and realize that Zoe was refusing because the nuggets had gone bad.

That summer, things are exciting. After Sonoma, things seemed to have gone better with the team. One day, Eve is playing in the water on some rocks with Zoe. Eve slips, hits her head and is taken to a hospital. They find out she has a brain tumor.

In the weeks that pass, Eve starts spending more time with her parents to give Denny a break from taking care of both her and Zoe. One day, Trish and Maxwell (her parents) suggest that Eve just move in with them. At this point, the doctor has given her six to eight months. Soon after, they also want Zoe to live with them so Zoe can spend time with Eve before she passes. Reluctantly, Denny agrees.

Chapters 24 - 30

Trish and Maxwell want Zoe to switch schools to one that's closer to them, but Denny refuses.

One night at a gathering of Eve's family over the holidays, a 15-year-old girl, Annika (who has a crush on Denny) asks him to drive her home. A storm breaks out as Denny's on his way and it's an exhausting drive. When they get to Seattle, Annika tells her parents she'll stay at Denny's for the night since it's too late to drive any more.

That night, Annika walks into Denny's room as he is sleeping and starts doing stuff to him. He mutters "don't" to her. (The novel don't say what she's doing explicitly, but presumably she's going down on him.) Enzo starst barking, and Denny sends her home.

Eight months later, Eve passes away. Denny, Enzo, Trish and Maxwell are all heartbroken, but for Denny his problems are just beginning.

When Denny goes to pick up Zoe from their house to move back home, Trish and Max bring up that they think Zoe should stay with them. They say they have more financial resources, and Denny can pursue his racing career. Denny says no. When Denny refuses to discuss it, Maxwell gives him papers indicating that they are suing for custody.

Chapters 31 - 45

Denny meets up with Mark Fein, a lawyer and a friend. Mark agrees to take on his case and thinks it won't be a problem. However, soon the police come to autoshop and arrest Denny. They accuse him of being a child rapist.

The custody suit takes place over the course of three years. The child he "raped" is Annika, the 15-year-old who came onto him. Trish and Max are able to take Zoe and file a temporary restraining order so Denny can't see her. They kick Denny out of Eve's funeral. They sue Denny for child support and try to drag out the custody proceedings in order to drain him financially.

They are eventually able to get a visitation schedule in place while they sort out the custody issue. At one point Mark threatens to stop representing Denny when he has trouble paying, but Denny sells the house. Soon though, Mark is appointed a judgeship, and Denny has to get a new lawyer anyway. Mr. Lawrence is the new guy and is not as good of a lawyer as Mark.

Chapters 46 - 50

One day, Enzo gets hit by a car. He lives, but it's more money that Denny doesn't have. Soon, Denny has the lawyers negotiate just settling the case. The papers are drawn up with a fairly liberal visitation schedule for Denny. However, Enzo realizes what's going on and he grabs the papers and jumps out the window. Then he pees on them. Denny changes his mind on signing the papers.

A man, Luca, comes to talk to Denny one day and offers him a job testing cars in Italy. He's not allowed to leave the country so he can't go, but the man tells him he knows about his custody battle and will wait for him to be free.

At this point, Enzo is getting old. Enzo has hip dysplasia already, but he's also less able to control his bowel movements and has less mobility.

Chapters 51 - 56

As they are walking one day, Enzo and Denny see Annika. Denny goes straight up to her. He tells her he's sorry if he sent her confusing messages, but he tells her that they are threatening to take Zoe away from him. He begs her to please drop this.

Soon, Denny's parents who he has not seen in a long time show up. They hand him an envelope full of money and leave the next morning. They say they took out a reverse mortgage on their home since they figured he needed the money now, and they know they never "did right by" him.

The trial finally arrives. It seems like Denny is totally screwed as everyone testifies about what a sexual predator he is, including Annika. Then the judge calls a recess and we find out Annika recanted, and the charges were dropped.

Chapters 57 - 8

Trish and Maxwell drop their suit. Denny is able to take the job with Lucca in Italy. Knowing Zoe and Denny will be reunited and that Denny is taking the job in Italy, Enzo decides he's ready to pass. Denny holds Enzo as he peacefully passes away.

Imola, Italy

Sometime much later, in Italy, a couple brings their child over to meet Denny, now a racing champion. The child is named Enzo and is a big fan. "The car goes where the eyes go" the child tells him, which is something Denny once said to Enzo (the dog).

It's implied that Enzo the child is the reincarnation of Enzo the dog.

See The Art of Racing in the Rain on Amazon.

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