60 pages 2 hours read

Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2008, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a New York Times bestselling novel by Garth Stein. It follows the life of race car driver Denny Swift and is told from the perspective of his dog, Enzo. Stein was inspired to write the book after watching the 1998 Mongolian documentary State of Dogs about a dog who is reincarnated as a human after death, and after seeing the poet Billy Collins read a poem that is told from a dog’s point of view. Stein’s own experience as a race car driver provided the inspiration for Denny’s character. In 2019, a film adaption of the book was made starring Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried as Denny and Eve, with Kevin Costner providing the voice of Enzo.

Plot Summary

Enzo is a thoughtful, energetic dog living in Seattle with his master, Dennis “Denny” Swift. The story opens at a later point in time relative to the rest of the book, with Enzo past his prime and Denny a father and widower. Though the reader lacks the context of these two characters, the depth of Enzo’s perspective conveys two germane facts: he is as smart as a human, and he is ready to die. He believes that reincarnation into a human body is his ultimate destination.

Denny is a racecar driver, and Enzo shares his master’s affinity for vehicles. Their favorite pastime is watching footage of past races.

Enzo regularly diverts the narrative away from the central flow of the plot. He focuses instead on his puppy years, valued time spent with Denny, and his own ruminations about the racing world. These side-chapters always manage to intersect with the rest of the plot on a thematic level. Enzo is able to digest racing practices into profound philosophies of life.

The developing trust between Enzo and Denny gets momentarily interrupted by the appearance of Eve, Denny’s future wife. Enzo feels threatened by her presence and the control she exerts over their home life, but warms to her when she becomes pregnant with Denny’s daughter, Zoe. Eve enlists Enzo to be Zoe’s protector, which offers him a renewed sense of purpose.

Enzo smells a sickness in Eve’s head, but his inability to communicate on a human level means he cannot warn anyone of her condition in time to treat it. Meanwhile, Denny leaves on racing tours for longer and longer periods of time. His absence and Eve’s sickness put their marriage through a stress test. Just as Eve’s condition seems to be improving, she falls and hits her head on a rock. She goes to the hospital, where doctors confirm the presence of a mass in her brain.

As Eve recuperates and comes to terms with the reality of her condition, her parents (Trish and Maxwell) convince Denny to let Eve remain with them. They later convince Denny to let Zoe join her mother for what time she has left. Throughout this period of time, Denny grows more distant from Eve.

Denny takes a trip for Presidents’ Day, where 15 year-old Annika develops a crush on him. He leaves early to beat a storm, and Annika manipulates the course of events to join him for the long ride back. Annika takes some sexual liberties with an exhausted and partially-unconscious Denny, but he puts a stop to it and sees her home to her parents.

Eve reaches a point where she has outlived her prognosis by one day. She holds a party to celebrate life, and promptly dies.

Trish and Maxwell initiate proceedings to sue Denny for custody of Zoe. Denny gets a good lawyer, but this head of steam is interrupted when Annika accuses him of rape. Denny is arrested, and the likelihood of his successful custody battle is suddenly uncertain. The combination of lawsuit and criminal charges ostracize him from Eve’s family completely.

After their initial court date, Denny is granted visitation rights with Zoe. They are able to use this time to grow closer in spite of Eve’s absence. Denny soon runs out of money to continue the lawsuit, and sells off his assets for a modest living arrangement.

At the height of financial woes, Enzo gets hit by a car. Denny can barely scrap together the funds to pay for his veterinary bills, but he does not give in to Trish and Maxwell’s settlement offers.

Denny is offered a job testing Ferraris on a famous Italian track. He is informed that the job will be waiting for him when his legal proceedings are concluded. 

Enzo and Denny spot Annika outside of a coffee shop. Denny confronts her, explaining his current scenario in sympathetic terms. It’s unclear if his words make any impact.

Denny’s parents visit to deliver good news: they’ve mortgaged their house and farm in order to finance the remainder of Denny’s custody battle.

The day of the trial arrives, and Annika takes the stand. All charges are dropped, as is the custody suit.

Feeling a sense of closure, that he’s done what he can to help Denny, Enzo collapses and dies. He prays that he can be reborn as a human, like he always wished.

The epilogue takes place in Italy, where Denny has evolved into a racing sensation. An older Zoe introduces him to his biggest fan: a young boy names Enzo. Denny seems to recognize something of his dog in the boy, and offers to act as his mentor.