Thursday, June 10, 2010

A look at a book...

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
I recently finished this 2008 novel, and it is one of those books that keeps resonating in my brain. Most folks would find it simple-an easy read. Large type, barely 300 pages, it's the kind of book the fast readers I envy would finish in one or two sittings (it took me a week, though).
The book is written in the first person, and the “voice” is Enzo, a dog. He is quick to explain that he is more than a dog in his understanding of the world and the people around him, and he longs to speak with them and reveal the depth of his insight, but, alas, he has a long floppy tongue that makes word formation impossible, and his lack of opposing thumbs limits his motor skills. He points out that if someone would provide him with a “Steven Hawking machine”, and teach him the alphabet, he could marvel people with his intellect.
Enzo's owner and best friend is Denny, who is an amatuer race car driver flirting with the edge of professional greatness. He and Enzo spend many hours studying videos of Denny's races, and Denny's dissection of his strategy on the racetrack, and the mantras he uses to explain his driving skill become metaphors for his handling of his dramas off the track. And the dramas are significant-his wife battles life threatening illness, he fights to beat a very serious, but false, criminal accusation, and he faces losing custody of his little girl. Throughout the book, we are presented with a racing scenario and Denny's counter-intuitive thinking about how to best to handle it, then a real life crisis or battle where that same racing philosophy plays out as a life philosophy. When Denny talks about racing, he says things like '' always be in the corner your in, not the one you just came out of'', or ''you manifest what is before you'', or '' races are never won in the first turn, but they are often lost there.''
The book reminded me, as I read it, of the 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but is far more accessible (simpler !). They both follow a pattern of presenting a viewpoint, a philosophy, via a metaphor or parable, followed by some seemingly unrelated narrative where that way of thinking plays out. ''Zen'' became, for me, increasingly tedious, deep, and difficult, but this book
never traded away compelling story and attractive characters for depth. The philosophy on display here could correctly be accused of having some root in Eastern mystic stuff, and I'm not advocating adapting Enzoism as a guiding doctrine of life, but there is a lot in Enzo and Denny's approach to life that is attractive. In fact, when I reached the last page I wished for more time with Enzo and Denny-the very definition, says Lori, of a good novel.