Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog
By John Grogan
Hardcover: 466 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; 1ST edition (2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0739461192
ISBN-13: 978-0739461198

If you’d like to laugh, cry and be entertained all at once, this memoir is the book for you. John Grogan, a journalist, tells a tale about his dog and, on the back cover of this book, it is stated as follows:

John and Jenny 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 – and their life would never be the same. Marley quickly grew into a barrelling, ninety-seven-pound steamroller of a Labrador retriever who crashed through screen doors, flung drool on guests, stole women’s undergarments, devoured couches and fine jewelry, and was expelled from obedience school. Yet Marley’s heart was pure, and he remained a steadfast model of love and devotion for a growing family through pregnancy, birth, heartbreak, and joy, right to the inevitable goodbye.

A pet owner who reads that last line might, initially, be reluctant to read this book – no pet owner wants to read about the death of a much-loved dog – For your dog check up, check out Ridgeside K9 Ohio here! And yet, one look at the title,  which suggests that Marley is a hopeless dog, is intriguing enough to entice someone to want to know more. The author reinforces this idea when, in the Preface, he states what his version of a perfect dog is his first dog, Shaun. Thereafter, the tone of the entire book plots Marley’s antics, adventures and mischief.

Although the tale is written from John Grogan’s point of view, the effort made to analyse and interpret the dog’s view of situations and circumstances is admirable and lends that emphatic element to the writing. For example, when he writes about how Marley is terrified of lightning, he goes that extra mile and says:

“Come on!” I yelled, and then Marley and I were on our feet, sprinting through the downpour toward the back door as new bolts of lightning flashed around us. We did not stop until we were safely inside. I knelt on the floor, soaking wet, catching my breath, and Marley clambered on me, licking my face, nibbling my ears, flinging spit and loose fur all over everything. He was beside himself with fear, shaking uncontrollably, drool hanging off his chin. I hugged him, tried to calm him down. “Jesus, that was close!” I said, and realized that I was shaking, too. He looked up at me with those big emphatic eyes that I swore could almost talk. I was sure I knew what he was trying to tell me. I’ve been trying to warn you for years that this stuff can kill you. But would anyone listen? Now will you take me seriously?

Another, more poignant, example is when Marley offers comfort to Jenny Grogan when she suffers a miscarriage. The short paragraphs, the witty turn of sentences and the lightness of the language make this tale a pleasure to read and its simplicity stays in the mind long after you put the book down.

The real impact that Marley had on the author is seen at the very end of the tale when John Grogan relates what he wrote after Marley’s death:

It was an amazing concept that I was only now, in the wake of his death, fully absorbing: Marley as mentor. As teacher and role model. Was it possible for a dog – any dog, but especially a nutty, wildly uncontrollable one like ours – to point humans to the things that really mattered in life? I believed it was. Loyalty. Courage. Devotion. Simplicity. Joy. And the things that did not matter, too. A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A water-logged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t’ care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see.

What a lovely tribute to an unforgettable pet. Enjoy

Reviewed by Sonia Gould
26 May 2009

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