Winning Words: Top essays from ‘Tale’ writing contest

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Lifestyles

Six winners were chosen from among 18 essays to have lunch with Garth Stein, author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” this year’s selection in the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

Previously a book review contest, this year’s contest took a different approach and asked writers to consider one of two questions: “How did it make you feel to have a dog narrate the story?” or “Which ‘Enzoism’ (Enzo’s favorite sayings) did you think was most essential to the story.”

Entries were reviewed by members of the Tale for Three Counties Council Inc. who received copies of the submissions in which the writer’s identity and location were not included. Judges then voted for which entries they liked the best; the six highest vote getters were selected as winners.

The six winners gathered Friday at the D&R Depot in Le Roy for a two-hour lunchtime discussion in which Stein shared personal stories and offered an inside look at how he created “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”
Here are the winning entries, in alphabetical order:

Ann Burlingham, Perry

Enzo is a classic unreliable narrator, as, while he is highly informed by virtue of his extensive television watching, he is unaware of both gaps in his knowledge and in his understanding and perceptions of himself and humans.

Stein’s use of a dog narrator — especially an intelligent, literate dog obsessed with reincarnation — made me read the book as a fable. As such, it makes the unlikely events of the story and the satisfying yet even more unlikely ending(s) more acceptable, as they need not be realistic.

Enzo’s wish to come back as a man keeps a great deal of focus on the qualities and character of the humans in the story and on the dog, pushing the reader to judge her own character against that of the fabulous dog, just as Aesop’s animal stories are meant to reflect human behavior, good, ill, and foolish, back at human hearers.

 

Sally Capurso, Bergen

“That which you manifest is before you” is the thematic “Enzoism” most essential to the story.

It can be restated as “the car goes where the eyes go.”

Just as Denny practiced and analyzed racing tapes, track conditions, and driving techniques to realize his dream of ultimately becoming a champion driver, so did he systematically evaluate the custody battle with his in-laws to regain custody of Zoe. He recognized the need for patience and perseverance while keeping his eyes on the prize, never veering from his vision. Near the end, just as Enzo could see past the building of the apartment to find the Space Needle “whisking visitors” to the sky, so could Denny see past the immediate tragedies of his life — the death of his wife and the subsequent custody battle — to pursue his goals. If we can visualize what we want/need, then we work to create that destiny.

 

Linda Daviau, Batavia

Being a life long “cat person” I must say facing a book being narrated by a dog was a new challenge for me. How could a dog have the intelligence and insight to share a believable story?

I was much surprised to find myself totally absorbed in this tale of a family’s fight for love, life and togetherness. In sharing Enzo with us, author Garth Stein, brought feelings, wit and wisdom to what could have been a predictable tale. Enzo soon became alive to me with his unique way of sharing life’s ups and downs.

Throughout “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” the wisdom that Stein shares through Enzo tugs at you. To quote Enzo, “…new possibilities emerge for those who are prepared, for those who are ready.” I guess ultimately, this “cat person” was ready to believe that a wonderful story could be told by this extraordinary dog.

 

Meghan Hauser, Perry

From “Pinocchio” to “The Jungle Book”‘s King Louie, books are full of characters longing to be human. So it is with Enzo, the canine narrator of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.

With a dog narrator, Stein is allowed certain privileges to better develop his story. Characters readily divulge secrets when only “the dog” is around. Enzo’s canine abilities allow Stein to foreshadow Eve’s developing illness. Enzo’s laments about the limitations of his current form and his training for his future human-ness allow Stein to make interesting commentaries on human relationships.

The all-seeing dog as storyteller mostly works, but I balked when Enzo imparted knowledge that even the human characters seemed not to possess, such as the scientific name for Athlete’s Foot. Still, I enjoyed the insights and lightness a furry narrator brought to what would have otherwise been a sobering story.

 

Elizabeth Saleh, Corfu

I was quite skeptical about a book narrated by a dog, however, once I started reading I was delighted. This book is popular with dog owners who understand dogs are capable of sophisticated thoughts. Garth Stein may exaggerate a dog’s capabilities, but he puts into words many of the thoughts and frustrations dog owners know dogs have.

The author does an excellent job using Enzo to present a view that is objective yet part of the action. A dog narrating, gives us the opportunity to step out of ourselves and view life from a different perspective. Enzo’s view of TV and the world was at the same time thought provoking and quite entertaining.

Enzo gave me a perspective on car racing that changed my disdain for the sport. I wonder if Garth Stein could come up an animal that can give me a more favorable view professional wrestling?

 

Joyce Thompson-Hovey, Pavilion

Being a proud owner of many dogs over the years, I had often wondered what my loving pet might really be thinking! With this book, you experience life as seen through the eyes of a dog, one moment heart-wrenching, the next humorous, but always insightful.

The “Enzoism” that I felt was the most essential to the story was when he said — “Deep in the kernel of our family existed a bond. However things might change around us, we would always be together.” Denny had the ability to focus on the next turn, whether it is in a race or in life, and he never gave up. Eve was afraid, but grew to realize that this was not the end. Enzo knew that a racer must embrace the rain, and all four of them were able through their bond to each other to meet and conquer the “zebra within” and the uncertainties that life threw at them.

Back to 2010 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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