Author Garth Stein on how his love of dogs turned into a bestselling book and a major motion picture.
Posted in , Dec 5, 2019
There is something about the dog Enzo in the book The Art of Racing in the Rain, that makes us think. After all, Enzo is a philosophical dog. He is loyal, sensitive and he desperately wants to figure out the world around him. And although we meet Enzo on his last day on earth—as a dog, at least—bestselling author Garth Stein illuminates something about love and loss that is at the very core of our bond with animals.
Stein's novel was adapted into a movie starring Milo Ventimiglia as Denny, a race car driver who adopts a very special pup named Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner). The movie follows Denny and Enzo as Denny falls in love, becomes a father and struggles to hold his family and career together in the wake of devastating loss.
I spoke with Garth about his lifelong love of dogs and what it was like to see his book transformed into a movie.
Peggy Frezon: Have you always been an animal lover?
Garth Stein: Yes, I’m primarily a dog person. I’m not one who has a whole house full of dogs. Usually we have one dog at a time.
PF: Did you grow up with a dog? And do you have a dog now?
GS: The book is dedicated to my childhood dog, Muggs, an Airedale who was influential in my upbringing. We recently lost our labradoodle, Comet. Right now the only animal in our home is a bearded dragon.
PF: How did the story for The Art of Racing in the Rain come about?
GS: It didn’t come about from any one place. One of the inspirations for the book came when I saw a documentary film called State of Dogs which was set in Mongolia. Their belief was that the next incarnation for a dog would be as a person. I thought that was interesting, how could I use that? But I didn’t know exactly how I could work it into a story. Years later I heard [poet] Billy Collins read a poem, The Revenant, he had written from a dog’s point of view. And I thought, that’s how I could write this story, from a dog’s point of view. And gradually it all came together.
PF: I’m a big fan of your book and I love the movie. What was it like to have your book turned into a movie?
GS: Kind of cool, you know! There’s something fun about Hollywood. Of course, it’s an adaptation, and with an adaptation everything isn’t going to be exactly the same. You’ve got a 360 page book and a 93 minute movie—something [was] going to change. I think Simon Curtis, the director, made great choices. My concern was that they get the heart of the book right, and I think they did get the heart of the book right. Also, for a guy like me who basically spends his time alone in front of his computer, it’s cool to get out on the set. I saw Kevin Costner [the voice of Enzo] standing there and he’s such a big name in the movie industry that even other actors are afraid to talk to him! But I thought, what the heck, I’m a writer, I’ll go talk to him. And I did, and he was as nice as you could imagine.
PF: What is it about Enzo that draws us all in?
GS: Enzo’s voice is so earnest. He’s trying to figure things out, just like we all are trying to figure things out in life, right? He’s dedicated to his version of the truth, even if he doesn’t get everything right.
PF: Who played Enzo in the movie?
GS: In the book, Enzo was a mixed breed. I did that on purpose because I knew that people would want to populate the book with their own dogs. For the movie, because things had to move fast, they used an already-trained golden retriever. Parker was the main dog, he’s two years old. He was great, he had some great looks, and nods of his head. Butler played the older, more mature Enzo. And Orbit was the barking dog—Parker didn’t like to bark.
PF: My husband and I rescue senior dogs, so we’ve developed a sensibility about losing them—it only hurts so much, because it’s so good while we were together. What do you say to people who don’t want to read a book, or see a movie, where the dog dies in the end?
GS: I constructed the book deliberately to address that issue. In the first chapter, we know that the dog is going to die. We’re prepared for that. We have this unconditional love for dogs and it’s so good, yet we know that life has highs and lows. To appreciate laughter, you have to shed a few tears. We know it’s going to be hard in the end. Having a bond with a dog is wonderful, and we’re willing to pay for that with a little bit of grief.
The Art of Racing in the Rain is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD.