Those who know me know that I spend a great deal of my time reading. It may appear a luxury, to some. Personally I see it as a means of escape- one of the few healthy outlets I’m able to partake in wholeheartedly. To escape the noise, the anxiety, the depression- reality. Ironically, the genres I most indulge in are crime, horror, mystery, psychological thrillers. Cheery, eh?
The Art of Racing in the Rain. I came across the title in a thread inquiring what the last book you read was that really made you feel something. Aside from the absolute refusal to shut my eyes at night that came with reading Stephen King’s “Misery” at the ripe age of 17, I found myself drawing a blank. In quest to remedy this, I scoured the thread, finding a good half dozen novels, Stein’s included, to add to my TBR list. After all, Brandon’s always urging me to explore
less depressing different novels that are less sick and twisted and don’t involve so much talk about murder are “a little more upbeat”.
The Goodreads summary explains the plot better than I can put into words. An excerpt, though:
“In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life (…) I learned that from a program on the National Geographic channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.
I am ready.”
You. guys. I simply can not put into words how beautifully poignant this novel is. I laughed. I cried. I shouted obscenities, and almost the book itself. After flying through it in just shy of 21 hours’ time, I tried to explain to Brandon what it was about. My passionate retelling lasted all of 10 seconds before I was struggling for words between great, hiccuping sobs, my shoulders shaking and tears running like waterfalls down my cheeks.
At risk of giving too much away, I’ll just say that Enzo’s greatest struggle (and it is near constant, it seems) is his inability to communicate on the level which his consciousness and spirit perceive the world around him. He is reducing to barking, whining, pleading via desperate attempt of telepathy, when all he wants are two thumbs so he can take his master by the shoulders and shake sense into him. Or to wrap arms around those he loves and tell them everything will be okay. He understands, but he can’t make them…
Those of us who suffer from mental illness can probably relate to this, in our own way. While we are arguably gifted to be communicative bipedals of such great potential, there are often times we feel,like Enzo, unable to truly communicate with or feel understood by those around us. Whether it’s hiding from the world, or lashing out at a loved one, harming ourselves, or expressing how devastatingly depressed we are despite all the good in our life. We sometimes find ourselves incapable of interacting with others without feeling, to some degree, subhuman.
Reading Stein’s novel also gave me a lot to think about. Another well-established fact about myself is that I’m an fanatical animal lover, striving to give voice to the voiceless. I’ve always believed that animals had souls of their own: thoughts and desires, questions and fears. Perhaps not to the degree that we do, but in their own respective ways. After having some time to contemplate on Enzo, I can’t help but view Xena in a different light.
The other night I went to use the restroom, and I found Xena doing what Xena does best. Sleeping. Being a diabetic, heart-worm positive, blind senior dog, there really isn’t much else to do. But something was struck inside of me, and I felt compelled to document the moment, though at the time I couldn’t quite articulate why. I still can’t quite put into words why this moves me so much. Perhaps if you’ve read the novel, you’ll understand.
Enzo shows us what it is like to live just beneath the surface- seeing, feeling, hearing, but never being truly heard. But what about a dog who doesn’t see, and whose hearing is slowly leaving her as well? I thought I knew what it was to live in darkness- to watch the Zebra dance wickedly, violating our sanity and all that is sacred. I cannot begin to imagine how trapped one without thumbs, without proper tongue, without words or expressions- and without sight- must feel. That is the true, literal definition of living in darkness.
Even so, with her limited ability, she manages to find her way into the light. As shall we all. “That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.” ― Garth Stein,