by Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Do you believe in ghosts? Or, if not, are you willing to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy a story?
There be ghosts in A Sudden Light, and they help to tell a story of redemption and faith, a tale of when to take and when to give back.
If you feel you don’t have enough, you hold on to things, he said. But if you feel you have enough, you let go of things. —Grandpa Samuel in A Sudden Light
Trevor Riddell is the fourteen-year-old descendant of a Seattle lumber baron, Elijah Riddell, who took all he could from clear-cut west coast forests and then repented before his death. Elijah willed his descendants to give his land back to nature, but when do children ever listen to their fathers? Family being what it is, several stagnant and acrimonious generations pass. By the time Trevor arrives at the vast wooden mansion of his great-great-grandfather, he must deal with thwarted ghosts and unfulfilled family members—the spiritual and the nonspiritual— in his quest for the truth.
How do we reconcile the differences between what we see and what we know?
Trevor travels to the Riddell estate with his father, Jones, who is returning there for the first time in decades. They are greeted by Jones’ sister, Serena, and his aging father, Grandpa Samuel. Serena is a weak spot in the story, her motivations not perfectly clear and her intentions questionable.
But the grand wooden house itself is an interesting character. Trevor explores the hidden passageways and secret staircases of an estate that seems, magically, to live and breathe.
Perhaps that’s what life is about . . . The search for magic. The search for the inexplicable. Not in order to explain it, or contain it. Simply in order to feel it. Because in that recognition of the sublime, we see for a moment the entire universe in the palm of our hand. And in that moment, we touch the face of God.
And that is what this novel is really all about. Each strange encounter opens Trevor’s mind to new possibilities and an underlying interconnectedness.
by Garth Stein
Harper Perennial, 2008
“. . . life, like racing, is about so much more than simply going fast.”
Enzo, the dog, is nearing the end of his life. His eyes clouded, his joints stiff, he lives out his last years with his racecar driver owner, Denny Swift—and he tells us about it. Enzo gives us his dog’s-eye view of human life.
Garth Stein’s choice of dog as narrator reflects his background as a documentary filmmaker. Dogs are a taken-for-granted presence in the room, so humans say and do things in front of them they wouldn’t say or do in front of other humans. Dog narration allows Stein to show a documentary-style unvarnished “truth” of human interactions captured when no one is looking.
One of the most intriguing themes of the book—Enzo’s belief that he will be reincarnated as a man—comes from documentary as well. Enzo watches television, and during one of his long days without Denny, he watches a documentary about Mongolians preparing departed dogs for their next incarnation as a man. (Given Enzo’s fondness for racing videos and documentary, dog owners might want to be more mindful about what is on television when their dog is around.)
Any dog named after Enzo Ferrari is certain to have some insights into life well lived. As the story unfolds, Denny and Enzo impart life truths derived from successful race car driving.
“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many races have been lost there.”
“To remember is to disengage from the present . . . a driver must never remember.”
“That which you manifest is before you.”
This wouldn’t be a story about racing in the rain if a little “rain” didn’t fall on Denny Swift’s head, and fall it does. Denny and Enzo adapt to changes, suffer loss, face their demons, and “handle their cars” through obstacle courses of adversity. But in life, as in racing, experience improves performance. Every setback is a lesson learned. Every successful a building block.
Readers who appreciate whimsy will love The Art of Racing in the Rain and Enzo’s charming take on life. Those with tougher shells won’t be attracted to it, and that’s a shame; they might be the ones who need it the most.
To read an interview with Garth Stein, go here: http://www.garthstein.com/index.php