The 'Art' of love and loss: Garth Stein brings his bestseller to Fargo

Garth Stein and his late dog, Comet. Frank Huster / Special to The Forum

As the author of "The Art of Racing in the Rain," Garth Stein has been a hit on the New York Times bestseller list and with the recent film adaptation, at the box office.

Still, it was in his own home that he knew he’d arrived.

Calling from his Seattle house, he recalled how his middle son getting ready to head off to college asked his dad if he could have a film poster.

“He’s going to put up my movie poster in his dorm room? Wow! I’ve really made it,” Stein said with a laugh.


The author has lots of reasons to smile, and one of the biggest ones currently is his appearance at the Town Hall Lecture Series, on Monday, Sept. 16, at the Fargo Holiday Inn. The trip here will mean Stein has visited each of the 50 states.

The visit to laid-back North Dakota will be a welcome change of pace from his life leading up to the theatrical release of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” on Aug. 9.

“It was a lovely flurry of activity for a couple of months there,” he said. “I had a groomer coming to my house regularly to prepare me for television. It was all very exciting and thrilling and then after the opening weekend in Hollywood it all stopped. It’s all crickets and pumpkins over here, which is fine by me.”

The cover of Garth Stein's book. Special to The Forum

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" is told from the perspective of a dying dog, Enzo, looking back on his life with his race car-driving human companion, Denny. The story follows how Enzo comes to Denny, how Denny finds his love, Eve, and the birth of their daughter, Zoe. Their lives are disrupted when Eve develops brain cancer and her parents seek custody of Zoe after she dies.

“It was a beautiful movie and book,” said Mary Haugo of the Town Hall Lecture Series. “It shows how sad and difficult times can strengthen a family.”


Kevin Costner gives voice to Enzo, with Milo Ventimiglia as Denny and Amanda Seyfried as Eve.

Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) with Enzo (voice of Kevin Costner) in "The Art of Racing in the Rain." Doane Gregory / Twentieth Century Fox

Seeing his book, which was published in 2008, played out on a big screen was an experience he can only call, “weird,” likening it to sending off his oldest son to college.

“The movie doesn’t change the book. It’s got its own set of friends and interactions with people, and people respond to it in a different way,” he said.

While he’s pleased with the movie, he’s more happy to have it done and out there. Actor Patrick Dempsey optioned the film rights shortly after the book hit shelves, but the production took a decade to hit theaters.

“It’s such a relief to have closure,” Stein said. “It’s a relief that it’s come to reality.”

The book was inspired in part by a documentary Stein saw that included a Mongolian belief that dogs can be reincarnated as humans, by Billy Collins’ poem, “The Revenant,” about a dog telling off its owner as it is put to sleep and by Stein’s own experience as an amateur race car driver.


Author Garth Stein will talk about his book, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" at the Town Hall Lecture Series on Monday, Sept. 16. Susan Doupé Photography / Special to The Forum

Stein has always had a dog, so the significance a pet’s life has on a person is something he takes to heart.

“We have this very special, intimate attachment with our dogs,” he said. “We know that our life span is longer than theirs. We know we will outlive them. When our dogs pass away, we do our grieving and then chances are we look for another dog to connect with. Why do we do it, knowing it’s going to end the same way, with grief?”

He adds that his family’s dog, Comet, recently died, and while the pain of losing a friend can be hard, the love experienced while it was around far outweighs the loss.

“A flat earth would be a very boring place,” he said. “We need peaks and valleys, highs and lows. We need laughter and tears. To be able to appreciate the laughter, we have to be able to shed a few tears. We understand that as humans, and we want to experience a full range of emotions. Grieving is an important part of life, and we shouldn’t try to avoid it. We should accept it and embrace it, process it and then move on.”


His view of the circle of life has been appreciated by many, including children. After teachers said they appreciated the message of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” but didn’t think it would be right for younger readers, he adapted the novel into a young adult version, “Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog.” He’s also released a picture book, “Enzo Races in the Rain” and other Enzo stories for young readers.

“Now little kids can get in on the Enzo philosophy of life,” he said.

His older sons read the book when it came out, and Stein took the whole family to the film set, where they are extras in one scene.

“It’s hard to get them impressed with anything, so getting them on the film set made me feel somewhat satisfied as a father,” he said.

If you go

What: Garth Stein at the Town Hall Lecture Series

When: 10:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 16


Where: Holiday Inn, 3803 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: Limited tickets are available at the door for $25.

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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