Saturday, April 18, 2009

Racing, in the rain.

008 Aston Martin, Mosport, 2008

There are always times when I feel like this - having to step lightly on the gas, tap the brakes carefully, react quickly at every turn and try, no matter what, not to skid off the road. Fortunately, these times are infrequent, and are interspersed with periods of calm, times to relax, to breathe, to ease the grip of the hands on the wheel, unclench the muscles in the back of the neck, let the laser-focus lapse a little. This, I'm glad to say, is one of those times.

Time to read a good book, for a change from all the scientific papers I've been plowing through recently - and the book in question this time is, perhaps not surprisingly, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. From which I've borrowed the title, obviously, but which also provided the inspiration.

It's been a while since I've encountered a book that grabbed my attention like this one, and also since I've had the time to read one. And let me tell you this: it's excellent. The premise is simple enough - a man, Denny, has a dog (predictably named "Enzo"), a wife, a daughter, and a dream to be a professional race-car driver. The twist? The narrator is the dog.

Now, this might sound ridiculous, but I'll tell you something else for free: Stein is a genius, and his adoption of Enzo's point of view is a tour de force of voice appropriation, and entirely convincing. Enzo tells us Denny's story from ground level, filling in detail from his imagination where necessary, giving us flashes of humour and insight into the lives of both dogs and people. The story, though gently framed, is gripping - not about racing so much, although the metaphors are beautifully executed, but the drama of Denny's daily activities. At about 90% of the way through, I am, in an appropriately clich├ęd way, having trouble putting it down. The best books, I think, are the ones where I can't wait to find out the outcome, or the next event; this is one of those.

Unfortunately, the best books are also those where, once at the end, I am disappointed that there isn't any more. But that's a premise of good entertainment: always leave the audience wanting. I know this one will be like that, and even so I can't wait to finish it, to find out how and when and where Denny and Enzo will end up. Even on a weekend when I will want to watch the Chinese Grand Prix and another American Le Mans race (from the storied Long Beach circuit - how Enzo would comment!), I'll be curled up on the closest couch, turning pages, imagining myself twitching around the hairpins of Denny's life. And keeping a close, close eye on the sky.


Anonymous said...

Of course I have read "The Art of Racing in the Rain", and I couldn't put it down either. Let me know what you think of the ending when you get there.
And of course I watched the Chinese Grand Prix, but only a few minutes of the American Le Mans. Hockey was on, you see, and apparently it didn't occur to anybody that you can actually record more than one race in a day ...

Ricardipus said...

SPOILER ALERT - if you haven't read the book, don't read on.

I like a satisfying and happy ending, but I thought the whole Luca Pantoni thing was a bit deus ex machina, as was the reappearance of Denny's parents. And the epilogue was too much - F1 champ? Puh-leeze. Stein could have left him happily as a test driver at Fiorano, or winning Le Mans, or something much more believable (and in line with his previous racing experience - no open-wheel stuff is ever mentioned).

So, overall satisfying, and I really enjoyed it, but just a tad over-the-top on the ending, I think.

The ALMS race was entertaining but the field was a bit thin (not as bad as St. Pete though). The most dramatic part was the independent Corvette catching fire at the end, and Boris Said bailing out in great haste.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you - the ending was just too perfect and precious and almost predictable. Like a Danielle Steele novel. There was so much in the book that was true about F1 and motor racing in general that it was almost like Stein got bored with research at the end there and just decided to write a very happy ending where almost everybody gets what their heart desires. Still, it was a good read! :)

Alethea said...

I won't likely read the book, so spoilers were okay, but...

How can a Le Mans race be anywhere except in Le Mans? (Why isn't it called the "24 hours of [whereever]" instead?)

Ricardipus said...

Alethea - the American Le Mans racing series uses the same set of rules and regulations (from the ACO, i.e. Auto Club de l'Ouest, the governing body of the "real" Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans). The use of "Le Mans" is more a branding thing than anything else (it's a trademark used under license). All the races are based on the same idea, but most are shorter than 24 hours.

There was a European Le Mans series at one time (maybe still?) and there are races at places like Spa-Francorchamps that also use the same set of rules. There's also an Asian series.

Many of the races do as you suggest: "12 Hours of Sebring", "24Hours of Spa" and the like. Others use different naming conventions ("Grand Prix of Mosport", "Road America 500", "Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg" and so on).

It all makes perfect sense, really. A bit like naming conventions of kinases, or something. ;)

Alethea said...

Perfect sense, indeed. But it sounds strange to me to have a town or a place be a brand - although there are a lot of foods branded like that, now I think of it.

lug said...

so engaging, so real , so hard to put down. Behind every succesful man is a woman, and a DOG