The Art of Racing in the Rain Summary

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Enzo, a dog, reflects on his life and tells the story of his owner, Denny. 

  • Denny, who is a racecar driver and mechanic, adopts Enzo as a puppy. Denny's wife, Eve, dies, leaving Denny to care for their daughter, Zoë.
  • Zoë’s grandparents sue for custody. This ignites a three-year court battle, which Denny wins with the help of Enzo, who promised Eve that he would look after Zoë.
  • Enzo tries to tell Denny that it's time for Enzo to die. Enzo isn't afraid of death, because he believes that dogs are reincarnated as humans.

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Last Updated on May 18, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1547

The Art of Racing in the Rain opens with Enzo, a mutt who lives with his loving family, thinking about the nature of his life and soul. Enzo has always felt different from other dogs; he believes his body is just a shell and that his soul is human. He...

(The entire section contains 1547 words.)

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The Art of Racing in the Rain opens with Enzo, a mutt who lives with his loving family, thinking about the nature of his life and soul. Enzo has always felt different from other dogs; he believes his body is just a shell and that his soul is human. He is old and almost ready to die, but he doesn't want his owner, Denny, to feel pain and sorrow over his passing. Enzo loves Denny and considers him brilliant and wonderful, and he wants to be reincarnated as a human so that he can find Denny in the next life.

Enzo thinks back on his life so far. He was born on a farm in Washington state. His mother was indifferent to him, and he never knew his father. One hot day, Denny Swift, a racecar driver, picked him out from a pile of puppies and adopted him. Enzo had never seen the rain before.

In Seattle, Enzo and Denny watch videos together, and Denny teaches Enzo about driving. He says the art of racing in the rain is to drive gently, as if there are eggshells on the pedals that you don't want to break. After a year, Denny meets Eve, and Enzo worries that she'll come between them. In time, though, he overcomes his extreme jealousy and is able to see Eve as a person he can care about. Eve and Denny get married, and they have a baby, Zoë, when Enzo is two and has just reached adulthood. Enzo decides that he'll be Zoë's protector.

After Zoë is born, Denny begins working at a high-end repair shop for German cars. Sometimes he teaches at a high-performance driver's education program on weekends, taking Enzo with him. By the time Zoë is two, Denny and Eve are able to purchase a home. Denny gives a picture of the house to Zoë at her birthday party, but she doesn't recognize how exciting it is. Eve does, however, and cries when she realizes they're going to own their own home.

Enzo realizes that Eve is sick; he can smell the decay but has no way to explain to his family that something is wrong. He still feels unsure about Eve, describing her as his "rain" because she arrived as an unpredictable element that changed his mood and energy. A few years after they move into the house, Eve wakes up so sick that she vomits in the kitchen and tells Enzo she feels like someone is crushing her skull. She leaves the house with Zoë, leaving Enzo behind. Denny, who has been gone on a race, is furious when he arrives home to find Enzo has been left alone.

Eve remains sick, but she and Denny can't figure out what's wrong, and she is reluctant to see a doctor. Instead, Eve avoids the problem, and the relationship between her and Denny suffers. Denny does as much as he can around the house and helps take care of Zoë. At night he contents himself by playing racing games, which he'd never enjoyed before, but one day he is offered a seat in a touring car and has to leave home again.

Eve takes Enzo and Zoë to the home of her parents, Maxwell and Trish, whom Denny calls "the twins" because they are so similar. Maxwell and Trish are wealthy, but they are also the most unhappy people Enzo has ever met: nothing is ever good enough to satisfy them, and they constantly complain. Maxwell, in particular, complains that Denny doesn't do enough for the family and that Eve has to make all the money, and he and Eve argue. Denny starts winning races soon after this incident, however, and the family's life improves. They even meet people who are prominent in the racing community, like Luca Pantoni.

One day, on a trip to Denny Creek, Eve falls, hurts herself, and finally goes to the doctor. In the meantime, Enzo learns that in Mongolia, dogs are buried in such a way that helps them reincarnate as humans, and he decides he wants to have that experience for himself. When Denny and Eve learn Eve has a mass in her brain, Enzo goes to stay with their friend Mike's partner, Tony.

When Tony volunteers to watch Zoë for the weekend, Denny and Enzo spend time together as they did in the past—watching television and racing tapes, jogging, and ordering pizza for lunch. Denny can finally relax, and Eve is very happy about it. Ultimately, Eve and Zoë go to stay with her parents because Eve doesn't want Denny to have the burden of being her caretaker.

During Eve's illness, Denny travels with her family to a ski resort, where a fifteen-year-old girl named Annika follows him around. Enzo doesn't like Annika; he believes she is crafty and deliberately positions herself to be around Denny. She carpools with Denny at the end of the trip and stays at his house during a blizzard that forces them off the road.

Eve eventually worsens and dies. Enzo dreams of her death the night before it occurs and is heartbroken. Afterward, Maxwell and Trish accuse Denny of not being fit to raise Zoë and pursue a lawsuit to gain custody of her.

One day, police officers arrive at Denny's workplace with a warrant to arrest him, saying he is being charged with a felony: rape of a child in the third degree. Denny is marched out in handcuffs. He learns that Annika has accused him of rape, and he isn't allowed to be around his daughter or even attend his wife's funeral.

Tony and Mike try to help him, but Denny doesn't want to talk to anyone after being released on bail. He knows the lawsuit will lead to him losing custody of Zoë, and she is indeed removed from him and placed in her grandparents' care. Enzo watches Denny's legal battles continue for the next three years, during which time he saves Denny from a descent into alcoholism. They eventually learn that, at eight, Enzo is suffering from hip dysplasia.

Denny tells Zoë he is racing in Europe so that she won't be upset that she can't see him, and Enzo goes to stay with Mike so that he can see Zoë. She tells him how much she misses her father and that she wants to travel to see him. In reality, Denny's career is derailed because he is unable to leave the state.

One night, Enzo overhears Trish telling Maxwell that she finds the timing of Annika's confession suspicious. Maxwell, who still doesn't believe Denny is fit to be raising Zoë, doesn't care, and his coldness toward Denny leads Enzo to purposefully have diarrhea on Maxwell's rug.

Soon after, Denny obtains partial custody of Zoë and is able to see her a few times per month; this arrangement continues over the course of the next year. Denny is running out of money trying to pay for legal representation, however; he has to sell his house, and just when Maxwell and Trish decide to sue him for child support, he has to find a new lawyer.

Then Enzo is hit by a car. He survives, and he thinks to himself that he didn't die because he wasn't ready for death; if he had accomplished what he was meant to, he would have been killed. He encourages Denny not to give in to Maxwell and Trish's demands, not to sign a settlement, and to keep fighting to clear his name.

One night, Luca Pantoni offers Denny a job in Italy at his racetrack. Denny doesn't think he'll be able to take it because of his legal trouble, but Luca promises that the job will be his once his name has been cleared. This becomes possible when Denny runs into Annika one night and explains what her false accusation has done to him and his life. Things improve even further when Denny's estranged parents arrive and offer him financial help.

At the trial, the prosecutor asks for a special recess, which Denny describes as the longest forty-five minutes of his life. After the recess, Annika recants her accusation, admitting to Mr. Lawrence, Denny's attorney, that she told people what she had hoped would happen but that, in reality, nothing at all occurred between her and Denny. The charges against him are finally dropped.

Maxwell and Trish end the custody suit, and Zoë comes home to live with Denny. This leaves him free to move with her and Enzo to Italy so that he can accept Luca's job offer. Before they can leave, however, Enzo sickens and dies. He remembers his life without regrets and is happy that he was able to spend it with Denny and Zoë. Denny tells Enzo that he is free to go if he is ready.

After Enzo dies, Denny and Zoë begin a new life in Italy, and one day, Zoë introduces Denny to a father and son. The son's name is Enzo, and he is a fan of racing. Denny promises to teach Enzo how to race when he is old enough. The boy remarks that "The car goes where the eyes go"—a thought Enzo the dog once had when he was diagnosed with hip dysplasia.

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