I feel like Garth Stein could have nixed the dog narrator idea for The Art of Racing in the Rain and produced a book that was much more well written. See, this is my problem with supposed “literary” fiction. Perhaps entirely because of the snobbery and proposed bragging rights that come with “enjoying” a novel like this, the majority of criticisms it receives are looked down on. And that just irks me.
So what didn’t work?
Well, plain and simple: Enzo, the dog.
I don’t know if Stein was really thinking through his decision here, but I know for a fact that he was definitely pushing his vision. The problem really lies in the fact that the narrator was massively biased and unrealistically omniscient to an unreasonable degree. Stein tries to cover it up with this nonsense that dogs somehow have some degree of ability to just understand and know more than other creatures, but honestly? It’s just deus ex machina hidden behind literary snobbery.
I already have to suspend some disbelief in the idea of a dog narrating this story initially, which is not a bad thing and there have been plenty of well written novels with animal narrators. That said, when done well, the animals don’t have an unrealistic understanding or knowledge of ideas and events out of their means. The events of courtrooms and moments in which the dog was never present fall under that category. Philosophical ideas that even your average person might struggle to grasp falls under that category.
It’s also quite belittling, in a way, to your readers to present your dog narrator this way. In so many instances the message seems to be: this dog is smarter than you, this dog is better than you.
There’s so much deus ex machina peppered in this novel, but I guess I have to pretend to like it anyway because “lit.”
And it’s really a massive shame, because I don’t think it would have been that difficult for the author to fix? Throw in a scene where Denny’s friend comes over to pick up Enzo or let him out and have the friend talking on the phone describing something that happened. Don’t go overboard with your dog narrator’s ability to theorize and give them excessive omniscience. It just doesn’t make sense.
But somehow I’m supposed to deeply appreciate this dog’s point of view.
The story itself is…okay.
If I wanted to read about misery, I would spend my free time with the news. That in and of itself made this book difficult to read. What was even more frustrating is the fact that the characters are just so stupid. Every which way, dumb decisions are being made that eventually lead to a plethora of miserable situations that basically culminate in a miserable life that eventually has a happy ending (ish?). Honestly, though, I hated that ending more than anything else, it was so contrived.
In general, I suppose I could get behind the evil / judgmental in-laws direction that the story took. It’s not pushing my disbelief and I don’t really see any problem with it. What I did struggle with and what pissed me off was this idea of a woman “crying rape.” And not just a woman, a minor. Ultimately, it was made very clear that this character was lying about the event which is where my anger comes in.
Not only does this book posit that women lie about rape (a statistic that has proven time and again to be so painfully minuscule), but it also posits that a minor is doing so. It’s problematic and it’s disgusting. And this world is not in a place where asserting this kind of nonsense as a common truth is acceptable.
That was hard to wrap my head around.
Ultimately, I left The Art of Racing in the Rain disappointed not only with the novel but with how I had spent my time. Nothing about reading this book felt good in any way. Even the supposedly feel-good ending didn’t elicit any happiness in me. Instead I felt a sort of dejected dismay and frustration, bolstered with a side of annoyed. A part of me wants to like it, but I also feel like that part of me is tied in with the fact that I feel as though the world also expects me to like it just because.
And the truth is, I really just didn’t enjoy a second of it.
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