Good reads for those dog days of summer
special to the daily
Oh, those lazy summer days, as you lie in a hammock, swinging in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea in one hand and a juicy novel in the other. Your dog is lounging below, so in his honor, you read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, a captivating story told entirely from Enzo’s point of view. Enzo, a canine, lives a fulfilling life as he is taken for a ride with his master, Denny, in his desire to become a professional race car driver. Together, Enzo and Denny share a life of ups and downs, wins and losses, crashes and recoveries. If this book whets your appetite for another canine caper, you can also read “Dog On It,” a debut mystery by Spencer Quinn, narrated by Chet the Jet, police dog and detective.
You can’t tell a tale from a dog’s point of view without tapping into their keen sense of smell, as both authors successfully do. In “Dog On It,” Chet is a trained police dog that solves crimes with his owner, Bernie Little, a private investigator. Chet immediately zeros in on a criminal who “smells like all the other bad guys.” Chet also becomes suspicious of another character that smells strongly of cats, but he likes Bernie’s veterinary friend who smells like apples and strawberries. In “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” Enzo’s powerful nose detects cancer long before his human companions are aware of it. “My nose was near her head. I had detected a bad odor, like rotting wood, mushroom, decay … There was something inside Eve’s head that didn’t belong.”
One similar theme that both authors masterfully weave through their novels is the continual frustration both dogs feel by not being able to communicate with their owners, and their owners’ inability to understand their doggy needs. After Chet is knifed, tasered and kidnapped by the bad guy, he still is unable to convey to Bernie that this man is the criminal. One of the most powerful moments in “The Art of Racing in the Rain” occurs when Enzo becomes so distraught at his inability to convey his feelings to his master that he kills a squirrel. “A squirrel. Fat and complacent. Eating from a bag of Fritos. Stupidly shoving chips into its mouth, and I found in the darkest part of my soul a hatred I had never felt before.” In passages such as this, the author is brilliant in conveying doggy dogma.
What makes these novels so enjoyable is that as readers, we are exposed to a dog’s thought process. While we cringe when Chet jumps up on a suspect’s car and lets his nails slide down the door, gouging the paint, we know that he just wanted to see if there was a cat inside the car. When Enzo rips the daughter’s favorite stuffed zebra to shreds, we are aware that he thought the zebra was evil. (Maybe not that logical to us, but it makes sense from a dog’s perspective.) Telling the tale from the dog’s viewpoint also provides for moments of intense suspense. At one point, Chet is lying on a gurney in an animal shelter, innocently unaware that the people surrounding him are preparing to put him down.
Many dog stories evoke the typical human emotions associated with having a canine companion – especially the gut-wrenching sorrow when the pet dies. Since “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and “Dog On It” are told by dogs, the stories are freed from human perspectives and emotions, so the reader does not have to fear the inevitable tear-fest or melodramatic ending (such as in “Marley and Me” and “Merle’s Door”). For example, in the very first chapter of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” Enzo is very old and suffering. He wishes Denny would let him go. “He’s done so much for me, my whole life … We had a good run, and now it’s over; what’s wrong with that? People and their rituals. They cling to things so hard sometimes.”
While Enzo’s demise is apparent from the first chapter, Chet the detective dog and his faithful companion Bernie, live on to smell out more fugitives, and we are hoping for many more adventures to come.
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