The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein

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What are some uncommon words in The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein?

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An author’s word choice is called diction.  Authors choose specific words in order to create meaning, and also to establish the mood or emotion of their work.  You would expect something interesting from a book narrated by a dog, I suppose!

Consider the word “melodramatic” in the beginning of the book.  Enzo is explaining that since he does not have words, he must speak in gestures.

And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively.  (Ch. 1)

This is a special word because it conveys not just drama, but an over the top type of drama that sometimes is considered humorous.  This word is used to indicate that we exaggerate emotions.  Its choice in the very beginning of the book indicates that the author will use words that seem emotional.

Another good example of the use of an uncommon word is the word “polysyllabic,” also found in Chapter 1.  The word is used to explain the difficulties of being a dog.

“… my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective … tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.” (Ch. 1)

The reader should know that “polysyllabic” means “many syllables.”  Enzo is complaining that since he is a dog, he can’t speak like humans can.  His tongue is not designed for it.  The use of this word here is wonderfully ironic, because one would not expect a dog to have such a sophisticated vocabulary.   It is also emotional, because it helps the reader imagine life in Enzo’s shoes.  This is further enforced when Enzo reveals that he is lying in a puddle of his own urine.

Words are chosen not only because of their emotional impact, but how they fit into the sentence.  For example, an author might use a sound device to bring the point forward.  This is definitely the case with the repetition of d sounds, known as alliteration, used to describe the end of the dog’s life in the most melodramatic way possible.

He would do it out of love, of course. I’m sure he would keep me alive as long as he possibly could, my body deteriorating, disintegrating around me, dissolving until there’s nothing left … (Ch. 1)

This is not a pretty picture, and the words—which all mean “breaking down”—allow the reader to soak up the drama.  The alliteration contributes to the emotional meaning and the melodrama, making us feel but also laugh.

The irony of an old dog describe the end of his life in sophisticated vocabulary helps establish Enzo’s character immediately, and lets the reader know that this is not a typical book.

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