theartofracingintherainI liked this book, I really wanted to love it, but I didn’t. Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of brilliant race car driver Denny as told through the eyes of his dog, Enzo. Enzo wishes he was a man so that he could communicate all the things he observes. And on his deathbed, Enzo looks back on his life with Denny: Denny’s marriage to Eve, the birth of their daughter Zoe, Eve’s death from brain cancer, and the bitter 3-year custody battle over Zoe. All of these events are related by Enzo, who uses great racing metaphors to talk about the human spirit.

As a racing lover, I got the references. I understood the metaphors, I knew all the players, I appreciated Enzo’s insights into racing. I loved that Denny was a fighter because he was a racer, and I loved that his daughter Zoe inherits some of that gumption. These are all the parts of the book that made me want to love it.

What I didn’t love was the endless string of bad luck Denny has. The first 3/4 of the book were building up to something great, and then I felt like the last quarter was full of contrivances and plot devices. When Eve’s parents sue for custody of Zoe, they pull out a lot of dirty tricks against Denny. Including a completely unbelievable encounter with a teenage girl that felt inserted for the sole purpose of drawing out the custody drama. Then the drama came to a rather abrupt end, and so did Enzo.

I was loving this book up until Eve’s death. Then before she was even cold the custody battle began, and I almost put the book down entirely. Everything felt forced after that. I knew the teenage girl episode was going to turn into a big deal as soon as it happened, and I knew that was the only reason it happened at all. The custody saga bummed me out, but I guess the point was to show that a good racer can’t be a winner if he doesn’t finish the race-no matter how long or hard it is. It’s a great metaphor, but a little painful to read through when it means outlasting some bitter grandparents trying to bleed the hero of his money and dignity.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry at the end anyway.