Review: When fiction jumps the shark.

8 Jan

Because my mantra is generally, “So many books, so little time,” I’ve found audiobooks are a great way to sneak an extra book in during the course of the month. So when we packed for Michigan, I hit the library and grabbed, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” to entertain us on the drive.

About 30 minutes into it, I lost Alan. In part because his CD player was trying to eat the disc and the stress of its skipping tracks irritated him, but mainly because the narrator of the story is a dog.

Yes, you heard me: a dog.

It’s far-fetched, but I thought it was a fun and clever device… especially enjoyable for dog-lovers who would like to believe their pets are capable of complex thought and motivation akin to a human’s.

So I lost Alan but continued listening to the book after returning to DC. I just finished it this week, and would’ve given it a pretty positive review, had it not jumped the shark in the final chapters.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read this book and are planning to, then stop reading this because I’m about to give away a major plot twist.

In a nutshell, plot involves a guy whose wife dies of cancer and his in-laws drum up a child molesting charge so they can sue for custody of his daughter. Mind you, all this is told from the perspective of the dog and oddly, it works…

UNTIL THEY PUT THE DOG ON THE WITNESS STAND AND FIT HIM WITH STEPHEN HAWKING’S VOICEBOX.

And it is his testimony that acquits his master of the charges. WTF?

Seriously? And the judge accepts his testimony?

I’m sorry. I’ll suspend disbelief, but if you’re going to pull a stunt like that, then at least explain in the next chapter  a) that a ventriloquist had been hired to throw his voice to make the dog appear to be speaking, and b) that the judge was actually Judge Reinhold, which is the only reason a dog could possibly be allowed to take the stand.

I was chatting Alan on gchat as I heard this play out. Here’s a rough transcript of our exchange:

ME: OMG. Dog just took the witness stand.
ALAN: What?!?
ME: Wearing Steven Hawking’s voicebox and talking!
ALAN: Glad I stopped listening. I’d go apeshit.
ME: Totally. Next chapter will be mating scene between Hawking and the dog?
ALAN: That would be cool – like the Shrek babies that are donkey/dragons.
ME: Except these babies wouldn’t be cute like that.
ALAN: Offspring would be dogs on wheels blowing through straws?
ALAN: Chasing cars would be a bitch!

Because the rest of the book was so well written, I have to assume the editor gave the author an ultimatum like, “Finish this book TODAY or we are rescinding your advance,” and the author panicked. He looked for the easiest way to wrap up the court case in a hurry and spotted a poster that said, “When pigs fly…” and was like, “Or dogs talk. Whatever. Let’s get ‘er done.”

And THAT is how I’m pretty sure this book jumped the shark.

Book: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Finished: Jaunary 2011
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