Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Harper Collins
ISBN 978-1-55468-172-3 

Art of Racing in the Rain melds life and auto racing

Enzo the dog helps keep race car driver on track

Nika Rolczewski
Toronto Star

Aug 09, 2008

“Life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain is not an instructional manual. It is a fictional novel that pulls at your emotions. Love, devotion, death and betrayal – life’s highs and lows, all paralleled with the sport of automobile racing and narrated by a dog named Enzo.

Can a dog understand the concept of racing? I ask this as my Border Collie/Lab cross, also named Enzo, is lying at my feet. If you have ever watched the content face of a dog through an open car window, then you would understand.

In Garth Stein’s third novel, up-and-coming race car driver Denny Swift must deal with losing his wife, and battle to keep custody of their daughter. It is the bond between dog and master that keeps the family together as Enzo becomes the voice, or perhaps “bark” of reason.

Through the dog’s devotion to his family, his obsession with opposable thumbs and his hatred and fear for a stuffed toy zebra, Enzo represents his species well. As the reader goes full circle in the life of this intelligent canine, we gain insight into our own life’s struggles.

“A driver must have faith. In his talent, his judgment, the judgment of those around him, physics. A driver must have faith in his crew, his car, his tires, his brakes, himself.”

Stein, an amateur racer who has competed in regional events on the Pacific west coast, combined his passion for the sport and how it intertwines with day-to-day life. I spoke with him about his book:

Q: Was it difficult to incorporate a dog’s life and racing?

A: No, actually. For me, the writing of this book was an organic process. First, I got the idea of a dog reincarnating as a man. Then I got the idea of a dog as narrator. The racing just fit with that. You may laugh – but seriously, dogs have a wonderful simplicity about them: food, ball, bed. If you simplify racing and you simplify life, they pretty much amount to the same thing: You’ve got the wheel, make what you will of it!

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: The first inspiration was a film I saw 10 years ago called State of Dogs. It was made in Mongolia, and it was about the Mongolian belief that the next incarnation for a dog is as a person. That really set the ball rolling.

Q: Was “Enzo” representative of any pet you have had or met in your life?

A: No. I’ve had some wonderful pets and dogs in my life. I dedicated the book to Muggs, our family dog when I was a kid. But Enzo is some other being, from somewhere else. He came to me in a special way and I think his energy and enthusiasm really make the book special!

Stein is an easy read, whether or not you’re a race fan. But only a true motorsport aficionado will appreciate when Stein writes of Ayrton Senna’s rain-soaked drive in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix and the 1993 Grand Prix of Europe. Only a true racer will smile in acknowledgment when Stein explains the theories of racing in the rain:

“Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals … and you don’t want to break them. That’s how you drive in the rain.”

As I give my Enzo a scratch on the muzzle, I can only wonder what he, or any other mutt, could accomplish if dogs had opposable thumbs, both on and off the track.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is published by HarperCollins.

For more info, see



Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.