Stein tells the tale of an ordinary man, a hero to the loyal Enzo, living an ordinary life where joy and sorrow trump each other through the years. Yet the story, like that of James Joyce’s Ulysses and John Updike’s “Rabbit” series is infused with the search for meaning through the significance of myth. Enzo is a dog of mixed and non-specialized background, but, as the storytellers of the past tell us, to be a dog is to be a creature who straddles several worlds- the world of the animal and the human, the world of the living and the transformation beyond. In mythology, dogs are the guardians of the soul- and Enzo does save Denny’s soul regularly, as well as guards the soul of Denny’s wife, Eve, when she needs him most.
Dog consciousness is the new modernity, as is the evolved male. Stein creates a better man than Leopold Bloom and Rabbit- and a shorter story. But brevity is the new modernity too. Stein’s book has been compared to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, which is about neither Zen nor motorcycles, actually. Philosophic ideas like transformation, karma, reincarnation and the ascending soul do figure strongly in the novel as core principals, but Stein’s book really is about Enzo, one of the best dog characters ever invented in the history of dog writing.
I have one issue. Enzo really, really wants to be human. He learns from Denny’s racing principles how to change the roadway of his life: “… while I cannot say I am master of my own destiny…, I know what I have to work toward.” (44) But if one could be as stable, loyal, clear-headed and simply sane as Enzo, why aspire to be the basket case of mixed motives and confusion that is the hallmark of human nature? I think we should all aspire to be like Enzo. Go ahead and read the book and see if Enzo gets his wish. You will like the ending.
Dear Blog Readers, Garth Stein’s representatives are offering a free copy of this novel to the first reader who simply barks up and requests it. Just write us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and say you would like a copy of the book. Provide your mailing address and, for the first reader who simply asks, we’ll take it from there.