Saturday, April 18, 2009
Racing, in the rain.
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 clichéd 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.