Stein (How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, 2005, etc.) uses a dog as narrator to clever effect in this tear-jerker about an aspiring race-car driver who suffers more woes than Job but never mistreats his dog.
Lab mix Enzo believes he is different from other dogs, that he has a human soul in a dog body. Enzo is frustrated that he can use only “gestures” to communicate with his beloved owner Denny. Denny works in a Seattle auto-repair shop to earn money to race. Enzo watches racing channels on TV, soaking up facts and lore. Dog and man are happy in their bachelor Eden. Enter Eve. She and Enzo are wary at first. Then she goes into labor while Denny’s away racing and she keeps Enzo beside her. Enzo adores the baby, Zoë, but he soon smells that something is off with Eve. By the time Zoë is a toddler, Eve has increasingly bad headaches but refuses to see a doctor until it’s too late. Now come the travails. During Eve’s painful, lingering death, her parents, who have never approved of Denny, loom increasingly large. When Eve dies, they sue for permanent custody of Zoë. Their case is weak until Denny is charged with rape: After a reunion of Eve’s family shortly before her death, Denny gave a ride home to Eve’s 15-year-old cousin, who attempted to seduce him; he rebuffed her but Enzo was the only witness. Eve’s evil parents are behind the trumped-up charges. Noble Denny keeps fighting for Zoë, living by his mantra, “That which you manifest is before you.” When he almost buckles, Enzo provides some rather unique assistance.