It’s not Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but a dog is an interesting narrator
Reading time: 2 ½ minutes –
There are three captivating stories here, the finale of which is still being written. Let’s them in order. Story 1.
My favorite of the three is a lesson in the art of perseverence. Stein wrote Racing and sent it off to his agent. Agent’s response? According to Stein, it went like this:
Agent: It’s narrated by a dog.
Stein: I knew that. I wrote it.
Agent: No one’s going to read a book narrated by a dog. No one’s going to buy a book narrated by a dog. No publisher’s going to publish a book narrated by a dog.
Stein: [Listening patiently over the phone.]
Agent: It’s not even narrated by a dog. It’s narrated by an author pretending to be a dog.
Stein: Victor Hugo wasn’t a hunchback.
If you want to stop reading RIGHT NOW, right with that beautiful answer, you’re welcome to a very nice rest of your day. (But it gets even better.)
Agent: Just do me a favor and throw it away and write me something I can sell.
Stein: You’re fired.
Many rejections later, a new agent at Folio Literary Management fell in love with the dog, Enzo, and the book. He sold it at auction. Racing stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for 158 weeks.
The book is, in fact, narrated by a dog. Ironically, it’s the dog’s humanity that brings the story the most life. The main human, Enzo’s owner and race car driver Denny Swift, isn’t as charming or – ahem – as insightful as the pup. That will come back to haunt him, of course.
The reader will figure things out along with Enzo. Somehow Denny doesn’t figure them out as quickly, so after all the trouble he gets in during the first half of the novel, he must extricate himself in the second half.
Stein is a capable driver, and it’s fun to read from an alternate point of view here. But as reliable as Enzo is as a narrator, there are certain places a dog can’t go. The book’s climactic scene takes place in a court room, but the reader can’t go there if the narrator can’t get in. That’s an inherent problem with a dog narrator. I would have preferred Stein stretch the boundary a little and get Enzo to sneak into the courtroom to give us the story. After all, we stretched plausibility with some of the mistakes Enzo’s owner made earlier in the story.
The novelty of the narrator makes it a fun read. There’s a reason a book stays on the Bestseller list for 158 weeks, and you’ll be satisfied when you finish the ending. Happy, even. But you might walk away with a gnawing in your gut, wishing Denny had been as clever as his darling pet, Enzo. If you haven’t read it, pick it up before …
… Story 3
The movie. Interestingly, Universal bought the rights to make the book into a movie starring Patrick Dempsey. Presumably, Dempsey would play the Denny Swift character and not voice the dog, but who knows. The movie could not find a director.
Recently, Disney purchased the rights, and the movie has been greenlighted again. So stay tuned. This story of perseverance (that’s Story 1, not Story 2) is still being written, and I’m cheering for another joyous ending.