Archive for the ‘Garth Stein’ Category

For those of you who loved the Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, Enzowe now have the children’s version, Enzo Races in the Rain. With text by Mr. Stein and artwork by R. W. Alley, this picture book is adorable. I finished the book wanting Enzo as my dog.

ArtOfRacingThe story line is sweet. The artwork is colorful and I can see children wanting their parents to read this book over and over. If you are looking for a holiday present, this is the perfect gift (for a young child or for the child in your adult self).

P.S. There’s also the chapter book version geared to the 8 – 12 year old crowd, Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog.RacingInTheRain

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ASuddenLightAfter loving The Art of Racing in the Rain and seeing Garth Stein at a book signing, I was impatient for his next book, A Sudden Light, which was recently released. As it turned out, it is a family saga, which I happen to like (End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by Henry Howe Colt, as examples.) Unfortunately, A Sudden Light didn’t live up to my expectations nor the two other family sagas mentioned.

Elijah Riddell made his fortune clear-cutting forests in the U.S. Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His wealth was shown by the enormous estate (200+ acres) near Seattle called North Estate. In Elijah’s time, first sons inherited the family business, however Elijah’s first son, Ben, turned out to be a conservationist. His beliefs were like those of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, where we (people, nature, all things) are connected and he somehow convinced his father that to make amends for his devastation of the beautiful forests, he should let North Estate return to its natural form at some point.

It is now 1990 and there is nothing left of Riddell’s fortune except the house. His progeny have squandered whatever was left to them. Elijah’s grandson, Samuel who appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, inhabits the house. His children, Jones and Serena, want him to sign a Power of Attorney so that they can sell the house and land, refinance their lives and be rich again. Samuel, however, wants to follow Elijah’s wishes.

Jones, who as a young adult moved to Connecticut, married and had a son, Trevor, has come back to Seattle, ostensibly to help his younger sister accomplish this task. He has brought fourteen year old Trevor with him. Trevor is soon caught up in the Riddell history, the house and his gorgeous Aunt Serena and initially is in favor of selling the land, hoping new found riches will help his estranged parents reunite.

Trevor’s only problem is that Ben comes to him in nightly dreams, revealing deep secrets, explaining why Elijah’s wishes should be adhered to and more. As a fourteen year old, Trevor is confused about so many things in life, including, in this case, what is right and what is wrong.

I will readily admit that I do believe all things are connected. We read today of the continued clear-cutting of the Amazon and who knows what climatic and environmental devastation that will cause. We see the impact of global warming. And who is to say that our spirits don’t reside somewhere that can be reached. I won’t dismiss that idea. However in A Sudden Light it is way to blatant. There’s no mystery, no shroud or fogginess and it takes away from the story.

Additionally, while the story is supposedly being told by a mature Trevor in a fourteen year old voice, the voice isn’t believable. Sometimes it seems too old, sometimes too young.

Finally, A Sudden Light is the story of a dysfunctional family. But much of that dysfunction is lost in the spirit world of the story.

After bagging the two previous books I started, I felt committed to this book, so I finished it. However, I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t put down two previous books.

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Susan and I saw Garth Stein at a local bookstore several years ago and he was charming. It was after we had read the book (of course, at Susan’s recommendation), The Art of Racing in the Rain,  and I was compelled to purchase an autographed copy. In my mind, he looks like the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain should look and he has created a character, Enzo, a dog, like none other. Enzo is wise, philosophical, knowing, much more so than a mere mortal.  It is funny, then, that that is what he would like to become in his next life-a man.

Denny Swift is the mortal protagonist. His life in a nutshell: he finds and adopts Enzo, falls in love with Eve, marries her, and has a child, Zoe. Eve passes away prematurely from cancer and her rich parents, dubbed “the Twins” by Enzo because they dress alike, act alike, are a similar shade of nasty, decide that they want custody of Zoe, since Denny’s life as a race car driver is so unstable. When Denny refuses, they sue for custody, creating an emotional ordeal that is the crux of this amazing book.

Enzo, unfettered by societal conventions, calls it as he sees it.  He describes the Twins in uncensored terms, saying what we, who might know them, would like to say but feel constrained in doing so.  He acts upon his feelings, both negative and positive, including shitting on the Twins’ white carpet when they’ve pissed him off.  In essence, he is our alter ego. The fact that life is compared to automobile racing is only secondary, but so apt. “The car goes where the eyes go”, as does our life.

My dog’s name is Harley…it’s about as close to a motorcycle as I’ll ever get. After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain for the second time (and enjoying it as much as the first time), I look at Harley differently. I wonder if he is all knowing, if he sees things that we, wrapped up in our own little worlds, are too blind or pre-occupied to see. I wonder whether he wants to be a man in his next life. I wonder whether he has all these thoughts in his head that he can’t articulate because his mouth wasn’t constructed for speech. I wonder if he realizes that I love him, even when gets me angry. I hope so.

Denny, when taking Enzo for a spin around a race track, tells him “Bark once for slower, two for faster” and, of course, Enzo barks twice. Well, if I was a canine, I’d bark twice to have Garth Stein write a little faster, because it’s been a long time (especially in dog years) since The Art of Racing in the Rain was published.  It’s time for a new Garth Stein book. Put this book on your holiday wish list.

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