Dog Narrators, Chocolate Bears and Flatsy Dolls

I just finished reading Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain (HarperCollins 2008), a novel told from the perspective of Enzo, a lab/terrier mix who is over 10 years old and dying.  He tells the story of his companion, Denny, a race car driver (thus the name Enzo after Ferrari), who is fighting for custody of his daughter—the wealthy grandparents are suing him for custody after his wife dies.


It’s an interesting “trick”, of course, to have a dog as a narrator and it works—for the most part. There is a great scene when the dog is given visitation rights to stay overnight with the 5 year old daughter, Zoe. She places all of her many stuffed animals around his dog bed for company:


“Seemingly hundreds of them. All shapes and sizes. I was being surrounded by teddy bears and giraffes, sharks and dogs, cats and birds and snakes. She worked steadily and I watched until I was nothing more than a small atoll on the Pacific, and the animals were my coral reef. I found it somewhat amusing and touching that Zoe cared to share me with her animals in that way, and I drifted to sleep feeling protected and safe” (226).


But then he awakes later to find the Zebra, a stuffed animal that he associates with evil—-and that keeps him awake all night.  The whole Zebra-as-metaphor-for-our-Id thing would seem to be way beyond the ken of a dog, but this dog is smart: he watches a lot of television, and his emotional intelligence outstrips most humans.


So, yes, I do recommend the book with some reservations: while it’s well written, and funny at times, I found the dog to be more interesting than the humans around him, which makes the story he tells not as interesting as the teller.


But that scene with the stuffed animals sticks in my mind, because as I was reading I noted that my house, without a 5-year old, or even a 15-year old, as justification, has several stuffed animals.  How odd is that for a 40something woman to have stuffed animals? I suspect it’s not quite so odd.


On the bedroom dresser there are two brown bears, both belonging to my s.o.: the bigger one is just called “Bear” and I believe he belonged to his daughter (now 20). The smaller one is called “Chocolate”—it was a bear his daughter gave him one day to make him “less sad”. 


Also belonging to the s.o. is a stuffed alligator that he keeps in his office: I gave him that one, mostly to get him to stop making those alligator in the subway jokes about my home town.


But, of course, I have even more stuffed animals than he does, and they are all in my office piled on top of and on shelves of my bookcases: a bear with my college’s logo on its shirt; a dog that actually doubles as a computer screen “duster”; a smaller bear that came with Valentine candy one year, and another smaller animal that is unidentifiable: sort of squirrel-like, but without the tail. Basically, I have no idea what it is or why I still have it.  I also have 2 Flatsy dolls and their wagon (with a cat sitting in the wagon). I saved those (but have long since lost or disposed of the Barbie dolls) probably because they are so easily packed, and thus they’ve followed me across the country and through many smaller moves.  If you don’t remember those dolls, visit here  (in fact the picture on the website IS one of my dolls with her wagon and cat, though I no longer have that cool hat).


Except for the Flatsy dolls, my stuffed animals really have no sentimental value (we’re not including s.o.’s Chocolate here), so why can’t I just throw them away already?  Is Enzo, the dog, on to something? While they don’t sleep with me, there is something comforting in looking up from the computer and watching the menagerie watch me work, always smiling (though not in a weird, Stephen King-sort of way), always happy.

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