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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marley & Me: I Laughed, I Cried, I Considered Getting A Dog ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Confession #1: I'm not much of an animal lover.

Confession #2: I still loved Marley & Me.

John Grogan's memoir about life with "the world's worst dog," received all kinds of press. Critics called it heartwarming, funny, enjoyable. And yet, I didn't read it. I added it to my TBR mountain chain, considered checking it out of the library, even had it in my shopping basket at Borders once - but I couldn't quite convince myself to bring it home. "Why in the world not?" you ask. Confession #3: I don't enjoy reading about animals. I know, I might as well admit that I steal candy from small children (which I do, although only at Halloween), but it's true. I generally don't like fiction with animal narrators, animal main characters or overzealous pet owners. You could not pay me (well, maybe you could) to open a non-fiction animal book. It's not that I hate animals, I just don't love them. I feel about pet ownership the same way some people feel about children - it's fun to play with other people's "babies," but I'd never want one of my own. Lest you think I'm completely unfeeling, I'll have you know my family had several dogs growing up and I worked for a summer at a veternarian's clinic. So there. I do know what it feels like to love an animal. And, yes, my childhood was richer because of it. Still, our family remains dogless (because we're certainly not cat people), and that's perfectly fine with me.

Given my feelings on the matter, I didn't think Marley & Me would be my kind of book. So, I avoided it. Then, because I was looking for something light and funny, I picked up the DVD. Verdict? It was utterly charming, and not just because Owen Wilson makes me swoon. Sure, the movie ran a little long, but it was funny, sweet and tender. I reconsidered the book, but it wasn't until I received a request to review Grogan's second memoir that I finally read his first. It took me about a paragraph to realize it was exactly my kind of book. Marley & Me is heartwarming, it is funny, and it's definitely enjoyable. In fact, I loved every word.

Most people have either read the book or seen the movie by now, but just in case you haven't, here's the story: Newlyweds John and Jenny Grogan are enjoying the early days of their marriage when "life seems about as good as life can get" (2). Then, Jenny kills a houseplant. Not intentionally, but irrevocably. In her mind, that failure calls into question her ability to mother anything, especially the human being she's longing to grow in her womb. So, she turns to the classifieds. Weeks later, the couple brings home a rambunctious Labrador retriever. A bitter fight over the puppy's name ends when a favorite raggae song comes on the stereo - Marley seems to be a perfect fit.

With the exuberance of youth, Marley sets about getting settled in his new home. It's not long before the Grogans realize that the Lab they thought would be gentle, calm and obedient is ... well, not. He's happy, alright, stupidly, deliriously so. He's also "young and wired, with the attention span of algae and the volatility of nitroglycerine" (27). Books, pillows, shoes, doors, table legs - everything in the house bears the mark of Marley's enthusiasm. He's "a dog with more energy than sense" (219), who gets kicked out of obedience school, banished from the only dog-friendly beach in South Florida, and almost ruins his one-shot at stardom. Despite all this, the Grogans fall in love with the loopy canine. Says John:

As pathetic as it sounds, Marley had become my male-bonding soul mate, my near-constant companion, my friend. He was the undisciplined, recalcitrant, nonconformist, politically incorrect free spirit I had always wanted to be, had I been brave enough, and I took vicarious joy in his unbridled verve. No matter how complicated life became, he reminded me of its simple joys. No matter how many demands were placed on me, he never let me forget that willful disobedience is sometimes worth the price. (140)

Faithful Marley is there through all of the couples' ups and downs - through a miscarriage, the subsequent births of their children, job transfers, and the various successes and failures that define a marriage. As John helps Marley through the painful changes brought on by age, he's forced to confront his own mortality. Ruminating over his life-changing relationship with his psychotic dog, he comes to a surprising truth - Marley may be the world's worst dog, but he cannot imagine life without him.

In so many ways, Marley & Me is just a simple story about a man and his dog. So surface-simple is it, in fact, that Grogan hesitated to write about in his weekly newspaper column. The overwhelming response it generated convinced him that not only were people interested in his story, but also that they were deeply moved by it. It won't take you many pages to see why. Funny, heartwarming and yes, simple, Marley & Me's also touching in a way that surprised me. It made me laugh, it made my cry, it awakened the ghosts of my childhood pets. And, yes, it made me consider dog ownership - albeit briefly - for the first time in my adult life. Although I'm not making tracks to the animal shelter, I agree heartily with Grogan's final assessment: "A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours" (279). You better believe I did.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: Another freebie. Ya gotta love the library.


  1. I don't even really like dogs but I really loved the movie. I got the book on BookMooch and I'm excited to read it!

  2. I still haven't read it. I'm like you - not a pet person. I really loved Dewey (about the library cat) and I don't like cats, so maybe there is hope for me.

  3. I held off on Marley & Me for some of the same reasons you did, and also saw the movie before reading the book (LOVE Owen Wilson!). I finally read and reviewed it a couple of months ago, and I really liked it. I'm a dog person, though :-).

  4. You crack me up, Susan! "Still, our family remains dogless (because we're certainly not cat people), and that's perfectly fine with me."


    I'm glad that reading this book came because of agreeing to read THE LONGEST TRIP HOME. :)

  5. Another wonderful review! I haven't read this, though I did see the movie, which struck me as being honest about the ups and downs of marriage as well as funny and touching.


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