Book Talk: “Marley & Me,” by John Grogan (Gone to the Dogs #2)

Marley & Me by John Grogan

Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
John Grogan (blog)
Harper, 2008 (paperback) (ISBN 0060817089 / 9780060817084)
Memoir, 320 pages

First sentence: In the summer of 1967, when I was ten years old, my father gave in to my persistent pleas and took me to get my own dog. (from the Preface)
Book description: John and Jenny were just beginning their life together. They were young and in love, with a perfect little house and not a care in the world. Then they brought home Marley, a wiggly yellow furball of a puppy. Life would never be the same.
Marley quickly grew into a barreling, ninety-seven-pound steamroller of a Labrador retriever, a dog like no other. He crashed through screen doors, gouged through drywall, flung drool on guests, stole women’s undergarments, and ate nearly everything he could get his mouth around, including couches and fine jewelry. Obedience school did no goodโ€”Marley was expelled. Neither did the tranquilizers the veterinarian prescribed for him with the admonishment, “Don’t hesitate to use these.”
And yet Marley’s heart was pure. Just as he joyfully refused any limits on his behavior, his love and loyalty were boundless, too. Marley shared the couple’s joy at their first pregnancy, and their heartbreak over the miscarriage. He was there when babies finally arrived and when the screams of a seventeen-year-old stabbing victim pierced the night. Marley shut down a public beach and managed to land a role in a feature-length movie, always winning hearts as he made a mess of things. Through it all, he remained steadfast, a model of devotion, even when his family was at its wit’s end. Unconditional love, they would learn, comes in many forms.

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.

Book #13 for the RYOB 2009 Challenge (goal is 20)

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.

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  1. I loved The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan, so I rushed right out and bought this book, and it's been sitting on my shelves ever since. I know it will be sad for me, because our dog is older too. Hopefully I can get to it soon.

  2. This does sound like a wonderful book. I am glad you enjoyed it as well. Having a dog in one's life is such a rewarding experiences. There are certainly ups and downs but I wouldn't trade it in for anything. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I saw the movie and then got the book–which is on my pile to be read. Now I'll have to get to it soon. I'm a sucker for books about difficult animals.

  4. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I'm going to have to look for that one once it's out in paperback; I read an excerpt from it awhile back and liked it. And don't get too worked up about the sad part ahead of time – there's a lot of funny stuff before that.

    Wendy (Literary Feline) – I know what you mean. We've talked about not getting another dog for awhile after Gypsy's gone, but I doubt we'll go too long without one. The Grogan family got another dog after Marley, too; another yellow Lab, named Gracie, who's a lot lower-maintenance than Marley was.

    Jeanne – He's a challenge, but he's lovable :-).

  5. I bought this book when it was first released and began reading it immediately. I could read about two chapters at a time, though, as I would be laughing so hard I could not read the words through the tears!

    I never finished the book, though. I knew how it was going to end and I just couldn't face that fate for Marley.

    Then I saw the movie. OH MY! I started crying the moment Jennifer Anniston picked out the puppy and never stopped (it reminded me of our 3 litters of puppies and I miss every single one of those 20 cutie pies).

    I am off to check the online scrapbook right now!

  6. For some reason I thought you had read this already. The scrapbook site was cute. I know what he means when he said Marley slept most of the time in his last year. Cosmo was like that too.

  7. Mike – No, I'd actually avoided reading it until I saw the movie. Then I really wanted to read it, but I just hadn't gotten to it yet.

    Gypsy's still not at the sleeping most of the time stage, so I guess that's a good sign. She's just kind of lazy :-).