The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

It’s easy to love this book, but hard to find a place to start explaining it.  Anybody who has had a best friend with four legs and a wagging tail will understand immediately.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is a story of a race car driver, as told by his best friend and dog, Enzo.  The story moves through highs and lows but they stick together through it all.

Enzo is a lab mix, who dreams of the day his soul will be reborn as a human.  He has so much to say, but a long flat tongue gets in the way so he uses gestures to the best of his ability. His ‘master’ is Denny, and young racer who has dreams of becoming a professional driver.  After a couple of years as bachelors, the pair meets Eve, a woman who Denny eventually marries, and they have a daughter, Zoe.  Together, the family enjoys the time they spend together. After six years of marriage, Eve is diagnosed with a brain tumor, a terminal diagnosis.  Her parents are helpful and watch Zoe a lot, and offer to bring Eve into their home for hospice style care.  Denny is reluctant but knows they have the time and money to help her and so he supported Eve’s decision to stay with them.  Soon, they also point out that Zoe should spend more time with her mom before she loses her, and again, Denny reluctantly agrees.  Eve eventually passed and Denny was heartbroken.  To make matters worse, Eve’s parents present Denny with a custody suit for Zoe.  Denny was confident that there didn’t seem to be much of a case, but a ghost in Denny’s past came in and the cards were soon stacked against him.  He had to spend his life savings, and go into debt to fight for his daughter.

The story alone is gripping, but through the perspective of a loyal dog-friend adds even more to it.  Denny was a racer, and together, Denny and Enzo spent a lot of time watching race videos, analyzing them and learning how Denny could become a better driver.  Enzo loved it!  All throughout the book, Enzo was relating race mantras to the readers.

“The car goes where the eyes go.”

“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you’re afraid to lose.”

“It makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”

“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”

I can’t really say I’m much of a race fan, but this book was much more than that.  As I finished, I sat the book down and thought of all of my dog friends I grew up with with fond memories, and imagined them running through endless fields with their tails wagging. It has been one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.


Survivor – Chuck Palahnuik

What’s up Chuck?  The fourth novel from the Fight Club creator features a cult in which the remaining member is fighting with internal struggles, along with the pressure of the outside world as he is trying to avoid suicide and chemical inhalation (sound familiar?). While there are a few similarities between Palahnuik’s critically acclaimed novel, this is the story of Tender Branson, a 33 year-old man who is just trying to get his story out to prove his innocence.  He is telling his story into the ‘black box’ of a Jumbo jet, careening down onto Earth, the middle of the Outback, Australia, to be exact.  Branson hijacked the airplane, had the pilot land to let off passengers, then took off again to make the pilot parachute down to safety somewhere over the Pacific.  Branson had just a few hours to record his tale into the device before all four engines failed and sent him plunging to his death.

The story began with Branson in the small, secluded church community of the Creedish.  The oldest son’s are betrothed to young women of the elder’s choice, while all other males in the family are sent off in missionary labor in the real world.  The ‘missionaries’ work cash-only jobs, sending their paychecks back to the village, a kind of slavery in a sense.  The missionaries are forbidden to have sex, marry, have kids, they are only set up with menial jobs like house cleaners, and given a small apartment.  Tender was the second eldest son, by three minutes.  While his twin brother took a wife, Tender was sent into the wild city to work as a house keeper.  He knew how to take any kind of stain out of any kind of surface- blood out of silk pajamas, and mildew out of tile grout.  His employers often phoned him to find out what was being served at upcoming dinner parties, and how to eat it, in terms of etiquette.  The employers also had a daily planner book, filled out to the minute, for several weeks out.  They were demanding, but Tender was good at his job and didn’t ask questions.

Eventually, at the age of 33, Tender heard of the Creedish ‘Deliverance’.  All members of his family and church had committed suicide.  The church was reported as child abusers and the entire slave labor program was uncovered.  Tender was assigned a case-worker as part of the ‘Survivor Retention Program’ and they had weekly meetings to talk and make sure he was OK.  As other members heard of the Deliverance, the faithful pupils as they were, the took their lives to be delivered into heaven.  Tender knew, but was not very interested in the plan, and kept living his normal life.  Soon, he met Fertility Hollis, and began a strange relationship with the clairvoyant girl. Fertility had dreams about upcoming disasters- explosions, plane crashes, fires, a chandelier falling. She took Tender to a department store to witness a fire.  They watched as the racks of clothing around them burned in a fury until the sprinkler system kicked in and kept them safe, she knew they would be safe of course.   A freak accident with his case-worker breathing deadly fumes led the media into finding out that Tender was the sole-survivor of the Creedish cult, or so they thought.

An agent took in Tender and transformed him into a media frenzy.  There were books written, TV appearances, and even a dashboard doll made in the likeness of Tender Branson.  The public image that was Tender was a overly religion icon, his books were best sellers.  The agent had him taking steroids, tanning, got his teeth capped, botox injections, the works.  The were always traveling to stadiums speaking to the followers.  Much like the cleaning job, his schedule was forced upon him task by task to the minute.

I’ll leave the summary here, as Tender runs into trouble and finds out he’s not the actual sole survivor of the Creedish.  Everything kind of blows up in his face, and as mentioned before, he ends up hijacking an airplane to get his story told, once and for all.

The book was very hard to put down, a quick read.  The fun factoids and details that appeared in the Fight Club were in full-effect here as well.

How to get bloodstains out of a fur coat: cornmeal and brushing the wrong way.

How to get blood stains off of piano keys: polish them with talcum powder.

How to hide bullet holes in a living room wall: toothpaste.

These were a fun part of the book.  I also enjoyed the entire count-down theme.  The chapters were in reverse order, the pages counted down to end at page one.  As Tender told his story, you are reading a countdown to the present part of the hijacking.  This is a creative novel, and even though some of the characterization follows Palahnuik’s Fight Club, it is still an original read that puts you on the edge of your seat to find out how Tender’s fate brought him to his lonely flight.

Rating: *********(9/10)

Dress Your Family in Corderoy and Denim – David Sedaris

This was my first David Sedaris book, it was enjoyable, he has a knack for storytelling.  Each chapter was a new story and while I came in expecting loads of humor, each was a different spectrum of emotion.  I noticed a lot of disappointment- be it with himself, his parents, boyfriend, or siblings.  He seemed to try to find humor in some of the stories, but many of them were just put out there.  Some seemed believable, but others involved such nonsense as his sister rifling through trashcans at night and collecting teeth.  An interesting aspect of his stories involved his struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorders.  One story relayed the feeling of needing to touch a stranger’s head.  Many times in an airplane he gets the itching sensation to touch the passenger’s head in front of him.  Not once, multiple times.  He tries to play it off as an accident, but the compulsion returns again and again.  He said the normal number of touches is three, any more and the person catches on and gets upset/uncomfortable.  The writing reminds me a bit of Augusten Burroughs in humor, storytelling, and non-sense. While it may seem uninteresting, the stories were all little pieces of his life, where one could think ‘This happened to me,’ or ‘I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that.’  Sedaris is a contibutor to NPR and I read the book, I imagined an ‘NPR voice’ projecting the story over my car radio.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard him on there, but it was a fun way to imagine the stories.

Rating: *******7/10