We Create Our Own Destiny — “That Which We Manifest is Before Us”
I have always loved dogs, and two years ago, was finally fortunate enough to get a five-month old mini-poodle. As a family, we named him Bruiser.
I never realized the impact that he would have on me as he became part of our family. That is why the story The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein was one I will never forget. This is a story told through the eyes of an older dog, Enzo, who is nearing the end of his life. Although a dog seems to be a highly unlikely narrator, he is ultimately the one who teaches his owner, Denny, a race-car driver, about how to live life.
Enzo teaches Denny to be persistent, and to feel and embrace the joy of life. As the story progresses, there are significant ups and downs that Denny needs to deal with, but Enzo is by his side to help him through them. These include his marriage to Eve, the birth of his daughter, Zoe, Eve’s illness and death, the custody battle for Zoe against Eve’s parents, and of course, his own race-car driving career. Enzo emphasizes for Denny, and for us as the reader, the importance of living life to the very fullest.
“There is no dishonor is losing the race,” Don said. “There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” (Stein, 2008, page 277).
I found this quote to be inspirational and encouraging. Each time I think about it, it motivates me to keep trying even when something new is challenging. At a time in my life when I am doing a great deal of growing, adjusting, and learning to reach new goals, this story is one that influences me and encourages me to think and begin to act positively toward the future.
The Art of Racing in the Rain became a New York Times Bestseller, and won at least eight other awards. Although many people who have read this book chose to do so simply because they love dogs, and enjoyed reading it because of the relationship they have with their dogs, it is likely that once they finished it that was the end of their experience with Garth Stein’s book. That was not the case for me.
I am not sure if when Garth Stein wrote this book, he intended to have the impact he did. I wonder how he thought the story would affect those who read it. I had heard a great deal about it, and now that I am so attached to Bruiser, our little puppy, I thought I might give it a try. This has been a big time of change for me, and I am working very hard as I continue to adjust to some things here at school, and in general as well. I am very grateful that I read this book because it made me realize that everyone has ups and downs, some which are significant, and that you should live each day to its fullest. I am taking the thoughts of this story with me each day as I continue to make my way and improve my personal world.
Claudia Kawczynska from The Bark had the following to say about The Art of Racing in the Rain, after stating that she did not feel “optimistic” when she saw the book sitting on her desk for her review:
Strike one, it is not only written in a dog’s voice, but the dog narrates the story in retrospect as he nears death. Other than in the hands of a master story-teller — Paul Auster in his compelling novel Timbuktu, or E.B. White in the enchanting Charlotte’s Web — such a species over-reaching device is prone to cloying pitfalls. Strike two, the narrator-dog Enzo’s human companion, Denny, is a race-car driver, so the racing theme — as suggested by the title — is not only an important metaphor, but drives much of the book’s plot. Watching or reading about racing has never held any interest for me. (Kawczynska, 2008).
Kawczynska does not explain why she gives the book a strike because it is written in a dog’s voice, as he nears death. I believe that Stein chose to write this story from a dog’s perspective for many reasons, including that of unconditional love, which easily comes from the relationship between a man and his dog. I also believe that the reason Stein chose to have Enzo write this story in retrospect as an older dog nearing the end of his life is because life gives an individual great experiences and knowledge to pull stories from. Kawczynska’s strike two about the racing theme and her lack of interest in it peaked my interest as well. The reader needs to be a racing fan to get the most out of this book, as although that is an important theme, it is used as one way to bring out the relationship between Enzo and Denny. The race-car driving theme allows the other ideas of driving oneself to success, not being afraid to try because we might lose, choosing our destiny, and living life to its best, to come to light. As I continued to read through Kawczynska’s review, I read the following statement:
The storyline occasionally borders on the incredulous and melodramatic, and there were times when I wanted to put the book down because I felt the drama just went over the top — could anyone have as much bad luck as this Denny? Yet, there was something so appealing and inviting about the voice of the scrappy, likeable, and yes, very believable Enzo, that I read on. (Kawczynska, 2008).
This statement clearly shows why this book has been read and enjoyed by so many people. Even as reviewers tried not to like the themes, the characters, or the style of this story, it seems to be one that hooks the reader. I know it hooked me. It seems so unrealistic at first, and we know logically that a dog cannot tell a story. As we begin to read, however, and suspend our expectations, it is easy to lose ourselves as Enzo recounts his experiences with Denny, his family, and his race-car driving career.
Jeri Walker from jeriwb.com offers her review of The Art of Racing in the Rain, and her opinion Stein’s choice to use Enzo as the narrator:
Stein’s dog-as-narrator does not try to offer a sense of realism. Rather, Enzo’s mindset is clearly informed from the author’s mindset. Yet that is why I think the book is so memorable. Anyone who has shared a close bond with a dog will slip seamlessly inside the pages of this book and let the highly readable story carry you away. The story plays on all of those emotions and then some. (Walker, 2013).
This statement mimics so many of the reviews that I read. The point is not about whether or not a dog can narrate a story. The story is memorable because it in this story that Enzo, the dog, lives in the moment and shares that with the readers. Walker pointed out in her review that people do not live in the present, and therefore, it makes great sense for Enzo to narrate this book:
Enzo’s dog philosophy can wear a bit thin at times, but the heart of the story is in the right place. Dogs live in the moment; most people do not. Narratively it makes sense that the dog offers such simple and sage advice (Walker, 2013).
Through Enzo, many of life’s important lessons are re-visited here. The lessons of unconditional love, struggles, hopes, fears, enjoying life to its fullest, family, and working hard toward long-term goals come through clearly as Enzo narrates his learnings as he watches both the daily life of Denny and his family, as well as the television and videos he is continuously exposed to.
As I read through reviews of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, it was challenging to find negative reviews on this multi-award winning book. It became clear to me that it is a story that has been read and enjoyed by many people over many years. Positive reviews are easily found everywhere, from professional reviewers, such as Florangela Davila at the Seattle Times, other writers, such as Jodi Piccoult, to race-car drivers, such as Lyn St. James. It amazed me that a story narrated by a dog looking at life in the present moment and with life’s priorities in order could positively affect me so much. It reminds me to keep moving forward, even on days when it may feel difficult. It reminds me to continue to do the things that will help me to meet my long-term goals for a successful future. Stein’s story reminds me about love, family, faith, hope, and the wisdom of others, as well as living and doing my personal best in each moment. I am carrying these thoughts with me each day as I set up a successful future.
First, I would like to give great thanks to Garth Stein. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is one of the first novels I read as a child, and it sparked my desire to get my own puppy. Many years later we adopted a 5-pound mini-poodle, named Bruiser. I would like to give great thanks to him as well for providing me with countless amazing experiences which allowed me to share a few with the reader. I also would like to thank the critics I responded to. Without your work I would never have been able to use this as my topic. My last thanks goes to Dr. Harris for helping me through this process.
Originally, I planned on writing about a topic in “First things First” by Stephen Covey. However, I was challenged by a few bumps in the road that ultimately changed my mind about what I wanted to talk about. I realized that no matter what the situation may be, your dog will always be there for you. This may sound cliché, but it is a genuine feeling. Enzo and Denny’s relationship reminds me of what I believe my relationship will be with my dog when I am older. Further, I really enjoyed Stein’s use of Enzo as the narrator, so I decided to find what some critics had to say about that, and then responded to them.
Kawczynska, Claudia. “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” The Bark. N.p., 2008. Web. 8 May 2016. <http://thebark.com/content/art-racing-rain>.
Walker, Jeri. “Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein — JeriWB.” JeriWB Word Bank. N.p., 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 May 2016. <http://jeriwb.com/book-review-the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain-by-garth-stein-1099/>.