Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

I asked my 12-year-old son this question: of everyone you know, who best embodies his or her name? His answer? Mischief, our dog. Touche'. Dog stories. How can anyone resist a story that features a dog -- a creature so guileless, one imbued with only the best of humanity's qualities -- a staunch loyalty, an unending affection, and the ability to derive immense joy from the simplest offerings? Still, at the same time, inevitably there is a cloying, formulaic quality to even the best of these dog stories. It is the nature of the beast, (pun intended), that while dogs' brains render them unquestioningly loyal, their inability to engage in more sophisticated thought processes also restricts any dog-centered story to a fable-like simplicity. Dog stories are all cut from the same cloth: Through a series of misadventures, conflicts and losses -- almost always including the death of a beloved family member -- the dog teaches its humans the valuable lessons of trust and unconditional love.

My own dog story wouldn't feature my infamous pooch, Mischief, although he's always good for a you'll-never-be-able-to-guess-what-he-ate-today story. My story started a couple of years ago, and featured strays, another heart-tugging icon of the stereotypical dog story. I began to find stray dogs everywhere. Or rather, stray dogs started to find me. Wherever I was, a stray dog inevitably appeared, as if out of the ether. Within the span of a year I must have corralled about two dozen of them, before eventually -- with a significant investment of time and effort -- returning each of them to their owners. During this rainstorm of stray dogs, which lasted about a year, I began to feel that God must have been trying to tell me something.
So, enough of your dog story, Susan, you say, what about "The Art of Racing in the Rain," did you like it or not? I'll say this: Stein constructed a nice dog story, and even threw in some creative twists. But just as a dog's love is unconditional -- either it's on or it's off -- Stein colored his novel's characters black and white and with not much gray. Enzo's owner, Denny, was the quintessential good guy, and then there were the bad guys. Also, there was the cliche of the lost family member, here played by Denny's wife, who died from cancer (I don't think I'm giving away anything earth-shattering here).
And the ending? So predictable, you could write it yourself. Still, if you're a dog story lover, the flat characters probably won't stand in the way of you loving this book. It's a bestseller, so obviously I'm the only pooch in the pack not wagging her tail.
Next, a book with a tad more gravitas: Denial, by Jessica Stern. Meanwhile, I just saw a loose dog dart down my street. Gotta run!

No comments:

Post a Comment