Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
John Grogan (blog)
Harper, 2008 (paperback) (ISBN 0060817089 / 9780060817084)
Memoir, 320 pages
Comments: I did things backwards with this one – I saw the movie before I read the book. I had been avoiding the book, to be honest, despite glowing recommendations from people I know well; it was the movie that made me want to read it. The film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book as far as the essential storyline goes (quoting from my review of the movie):
Marley & Me isn’t just the story of an uncontrollable dog; it’s about the growth of a family… In retrospect, John and Jenny Grogan understand that their family began not with Jenny’s first pregnancy, but with Marley’s arrival. But although the dog may have been their first “child,” one of the things I really liked about Marley & Me is that the dog isn’t “humanized” – he is always unquestionably and genuinely a DOG.
…John and Jenny are relatable and believable, particularly in the scenes where they struggle with and argue about the normal stresses of family life. The drama in this story arises from the ebb and flow of life, and that’s all I’ll say about the ending of the movie.
John Grogan was inspired to write this memoir of family life with “the World’s Worst Dog” by the deluge of responses he received for the column he wrote for the Philadelphia Enquirer shortly after Marley’s death. That’s not a spoiler, and since the Grogans’ story is told chronologically, if you’ve had at least one beloved pet in your lifetime, the last few chapters of the book are tough. My own mutt Gypsy is now around the age Marley was when he died, and although she’s in remarkably good shape, one thing I learned from reading Marley & Me was that signs of aging can appear very quickly in dogs, and I couldn’t help projecting myself and my dog into that scenario.
Grogan is a career journalist, and that may have helped him avoid an excess of sentiment in the writing; the ending is certainly sad, but I didn’t feel like I was being milked for tears. And up until that part, there’s a lot of funny stuff. Just as in the movie, Marley’s antics are comedy gold, but the writing itself was frequently humorous as well. I laughed out loud often and read bits to my husband. If you saw the movie first, like I did, you’ll find that most of Marley’s most memorable acts came straight from real life – they didn’t all get into the film, and some were changed a bit, but nothing he did in the movie was invented. It didn’t have to be.
It was reassuring to learn that the Grogans were more competent dog owners in real life than they were portrayed onscreen, particularly in the early stages. Yes, Marley did get kicked out of obedience school, but he was re-enrolled when he got a bit older and mastered the curriculum the second time around (and proceeded to eat
his diploma at the graduation ceremony). He did suffer from serious anxiety, particularly during thunderstorms, and that provoked some of his most unruly and destructive behavior. (Having put my own dog on anti-anxiety medication for similar behavior a few months ago – and it has helped, by the way – I’m sympathetic. I’m also sympathetic to the Grogans’ misgivings about medicating Marley, since I’ve had them too.) On the other hand, he was perfectly housebroken, except at the very beginning and the very end, and he stayed off the furniture, except when he tried to eat it.
Enzo, the canine narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain, often laments being a dog and hopes to come back as a human in his next life. While Marley doesn’t get to tell his own story, I can’t imagine he would have ever wanted to be anything but a dog. He revels in being a dog. He is loyal, loving, and affectionate – by all measures except for his incorrigible behavior, he’s pretty much everything you could ask for in a dog. Marley’s master tells the story of their lives together with loyalty and affection, too. He continues to tell it in his children’s books about Marley.
I’m very glad I finally read this one. There’s a photo scrapbook of Marley on the book’s dedicated website, which is where I found the accompanying picture.
If you have read and reviewed this book, please leave your link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I’ll edit this review to include it.