The Short Version: Enzo is a dog. Unfortunately for him, he’s rather more intelligent and self-aware than most dogs – almost human, you might say. But he uses his intelligence to tell the story of living with Denny, his wife Eve, their daughter Zoë – and the tribulations they go through over the course of his dog life.
The Review: I am a dog person. If you are not a dog person, you may derive a bit less pleasure from this book – but if you don’t derive pleasure from this book at all, I question your humanity. Are you a robot? Please solve this captcha to continue.
Anyway. Look, a novel narrated from the point of view of a precocious dog – blessed with human intelligence but trapped, unfortunately, in the body of what’s probably a lab/Airedale mix – is always going to require a little suspension of disbelief. And, frankly, a little loosening of one’s critical faculties. And I’m okay with that. Because this book made me feel closer to my dogs, who are 100 miles away from me 80% of the year – and it made me think that the dogs I had as a kid, the strangely intelligent Airedales and one Kerry Blue… well that they were as happy as I was to have them around.
Of course, the conceit would be a little dodgy if it was just an ordinary ho-hum life of a family with a dog. We get 10-15 years of ordinary middle-American struggles and that’s it. Boring, even from a dog’s POV. But instead, Enzo ends up with Denny: a man born to race cars and married to a beautiful woman whose parents disapprove (and are a little evil). And so Enzo learns some philosophy (as well as some practical stuff, although not so much practical for a dog as a dog cannot drive) through the art – and it is an art – of racing high class motorcars. I grew up watching F1 with my dad and the names in this book (the real ones anyway; Denny, spoilers, isn’t real) made me smile: Schumacher, Senna, Watkins Glen, and so on. In fact, it made me remember sitting on the couch with my dogs on Sunday mornings past, watching a race with my dad.
And the plot of the novel really revolves around Denny’s wife’s illness and the ensuing struggle between Denny and his in-laws. I won’t give you the details (although I wouldn’t say that remaining unspoiled is terribly important to this story – the experience is what it’s all about, not the actual discovery) but I was reminded, perhaps even more so because this tale was recounted from a dog’s point-of-view, that human beings can be really terrible. They can believe awful things, they can say awful things, they can do awful things… there’s a line at one point where someone says that grandparents often think they can raise their grandchildren better than the parents, despite having been the ones who screwed up the parents in the first place. And in the context of this book, I couldn’t fathom how blind and awful the in-laws were being. Just really horrible – and Enzo, a dog, a faithful and happy and kind and loving creature, could be so much more noble than those human beings.
Of course, that’s the thing: dogs are better than human beings. Stein (writing as Enzo) has his fun talking about how humans domesticated dogs to make sure that they (humans) stayed safe from the clearly more superior species / stopped them from further evolving… but, hey, dogs are really smart and who’s to say that some evolutionary quirks couldn’t’ve somehow given them a tongue to speak with someday? The point about werewolves was a good one too…
And while the novel does suffer from some occasionally weird pacing and some strangely arranged exposition (Enzo is afraid of the vet/doctors because… of something that happened as a wee pup that we only find out about at the very end of the book?), I have to say that I didn’t care. It read real fast, less than 24 hours (granted, I had a good 24 hrs to kill with just reading, #blessed), and it warmed my heart. I shed a couple tears at the end, too. Anybody who loves dogs, I can’t see how you wouldn’t do the same.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A really lovely story in a beautiful package (I see you, Harper Perennial Olive Editions. You look so fine.) – and sometimes that’s all you need. The book isn’t one that will wow you with its prose or astound you with its daring. Although it might make you stop and think, for a second, about humanity and being humane and about why we consider dogs as man’s best friend. Dogs can be, and often are, better than us – they’re certainly more compassionate. And so maybe, maybe just enjoying it for what it is is all that matters – like a good race, like a dewy lawn, like a warm fireplace. This is that kind of book.