Sam Bauman: It’s a dog’s world in ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’
December 18, 2017
There's a quote on the cover of the novel "The Art of Racing in the Rain" that reads, "This old soul of a dog has much to teach us about being human." An understatement.
Looking at the cover one sees the title and the face of a dog (in subsequent editions the dog's face is changed.)
A reader might think the subject of the book is a slog by a dog through a downpour. Nothing could be further from the truth. This novel by Garth Stein is told by a dog, Enzo, who is quite a philosopher. Not that he is dull or pedantic. Yep, the speaker is a dog as told by a dog.
Early on, Enzo says, "Gestures are all I have … And while I occasionally step over the line into melodrama, it is what I must do to communicate clearly … I have no words because my tongue was designed long and flat and loose and is, therefore, a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food into my mouth while chewing and even less effective for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds to make sentences. And that's why I'm waiting for Denny to come home. He should be home soon — me lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen flood in a puddle of my own urine."
Denny, who's a race car driver by profession, comes home and picks up Enzo, comforts him, cleans him. He's Enzo's owner or master, take your pick.
And that's the start of an engrossing and very original work, all told the by Enzo — it progresses in dog time and eventually Denny takes Enzo to the race track where he is admired. Eventually, Denny takes Enzo for a short lap around the track dolled up in a sheet safety belt. Enzo loves it. But then they go out in a downpour and "race in the rain."
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The novel gains from using Enzo as the storyteller. He demolishes stereotype thinking and opens worlds of sensation and animal thoughts to the reader. Enzo is determined that in his next life he will be a human and that in his present life he will be a good and loyal friend to his owner.
A major theme here is perseverance as Denny struggles to endure and overcome hardships while on his way to becoming a star driver, to never give up, to fight for his dreams. Enzo notes Denny's struggles to win. The story is told with freshness.
Two things make this book great: the dog point of view and theme of never giving up. Though it sounds odd to explain it, the point of view is a dog's. Yet the voice of this narrator, Enzo, is not affected but endearing, funny, and at times even profound.
From a dog, we can learn much and enjoy life more fully.
Now let's take a look at another unusual writer and his many epic books, which were made into movies and comic strips. Seniors will easily recall the writer of Tarzan books,
Edgar Rice Burroughs, who isn't much talked about these days of computer-generated images, thriller movie and sci-fi, but he was an amazing author, writing dozens of books and creating a wide variety of stories. But his most iconic work is about "the ape man" Tarzan.
A Tarzan movie a year was common in the 1930s (I think I saw them all as a preteen and delighted in them).
Today's youths probably couldn't come up with a biography of Tarzan and may not even know of Tarzan.
But here's some of Burroughs and Tarzan's story.
Burroughs was prolific, to say the least. Sci-fi and nature stories were just part of his work. But the Tarzan stories were his lasting achievement.
Burroughs ranged the spectrum of fiction, writing not only of Tarzan but of planets and the solar system. It would be fun to read some of his works to see how clearly he foresaw science and space travel.
"The Adventures of Tarzan" (1921) was a 15-chapter movie serial which featured the third and final appearance of Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan. The serial was partially based on the novels "The Return of Tarzan" and "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar" by Burroughs). The first chapter was released on Dec. 1, 1921.
But the most well-remembered Tarzan is certainly Johnny Weissmuller (June 2, 1904-Jan. 20, 1984) who was an Austro-Hungarian-born American competition swimmer and actor, best known for playing Tarzan in films of the 1930s and 1940s and for having one of the best competitive swimming records of the 20th century. Weissmuller was one of the world's fastest swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming and one bronze medal for water polo. He was the first to break the one-minute barrier for 100-meter freestyle, and the first to swim 440-yard freestyle under five minutes. He won 52 U.S. national championships, set more than 50 world records and was purportedly undefeated in official competition for the entirety of his competitive career. After retiring from competitions, he became the sixth actor to portray Burroughs' Tarzan, a role he played in 12 motion pictures. You might be able to rent some of his films today.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.