My eyes are starting to dry, my breathing is becoming more regular, and I'm left with a stuffy nose. But as soon as I allow my thoughts to return to scenes from the story I just finished, my eyes prickle and my inhalation stutters. This book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was beautiful, tragic and uplifting. In short, I wish I could have written it. Or perhaps more realistically, I hope that some day I might find in myself a story to tell that can also be an homage to my home, the Pacific Northwest, as well as a tribute to the family, friends (both human and animal!), and experiences that give life its meaning.
I will refrain from attempting to summarize the book. It would only be a cheap rendition of the real thing.
I would like to reflect, though, on a few of the novel's components that have resonated so deeply that stomach still feels upside down.
The setting: the often drizzly Pacific Northwest, with the scent of roasted coffee beans, the views you seek out every day just because they're available. . . the whole experience of living in Seattle was romanticized through its realism. It was often cold, wet, and expensive. But for people like me, who already are in love with the hills, the rain, the neighborhoods, the people, and the surroundings, it was a heart-wrenching true story. What's more, told from a dog's perspective, the entire depiction was sensual. . . visceral. When I am home in the Pacific Northwest, I feel complete and grounded, and I can love the gray rainy days as much as the unexpected sunny day in February when suddenly everyone is outside with a smile on. As soon as my eyes hit the pate I was instantly there, in the Central District or on 15th Ave, effortlessly, and loathe to leave.
And then the narrator, a dog named Enzo. He tells the story in a first-person nearly omniscient voice. He is the dream of all devoted dog-owners. He listens, understands, and is frustrated by his inability to communicate with the humans around him. He effectively foreshadows to the reader because his senses, being more honed than a human's, pick up on subtle cues lost on those around him. For the most part, he can recognize the instinctual animal urges he experiences and has the willpower to do what he knows is more acceptable in the domesticated life he leads. Yet when necessary, he will indulge his inner dog and let loose for a few moments when he knows the gesture will make an impression. He unconditionally loves his master and in the midst of the chaos and tragedy that befalls Denny, Enzo knows he is the one constant thread to which Denny can cling, as long as he doesn't let old age get the best of him.
The primary antagonists in the book- Denny's in-laws- prove themselves to be awful people, and despicably believable too. They contort the truth and manipulate people and nearly ruin Denny's life. Yet, Denny is a strong man who is made even stronger by having the loyal Enzo by his side.
Periodically, Enzo reflects on the recent events, or on Denny's ability to navigate through treacherous conditions, by telling stories of great race-car drivers. A driver's skills, mistakes and achievements on the track are metaphors for human experiences on the outside. The reader hopes that Denny, an expert driver in the most difficult of conditions, will allow that professional expertise to carryover into his personal life and bring him triumph, once and for all.
I spent the last several pages of the book with tears streaming down my face, both out of sadness and out of joy. I do love a good, satisfying ending.