Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Report: Marley and Me by John Grogan

I bought a copy of John Grogan's Marley & Me in a CVS two years ago (this was, of course, before I started boycotting CVS, but that's a topic for another blog post) but didn't get around to reading it until this past Sunday. I read most of it in one sitting, starved for the luxury of curling up with the proverbial good book.


If you've been following this blog with any regularity, then you know that I don't like dogs. My sister's two shih zhus are the only dogs for which I've ever felt any sort of affection (they're so darned cute that they managed to melt my Cruella Deville heart), and even they sometimes intimidate me despite their diminutive size. So, given my feeling, why would I want to read a memoir about a man and his Labrador retriever?


Partly, it had to do with the fact that it was made into a movie, a movie that I'd happened to see. Although I'm a professed reader, I'm not immune to the effect of feature films on otherwise snubbed books (not that this book was ever in that category) and have been known to run out and buy such titles after being snowed by a glitzy trailer. Another reason I wanted to read Marley & Me was because the bf loves dogs so much - and I was curious to find out what made dog people tick. Finally, although I'm not a dog person, I am a book person. And I knew that author John Grogan was a newspaper columnist qualified to deliver a good yarn.


I was right. Marley & Me was well-written. And as in the movie, it wasn't just the tale of a man and his dog, but of the evolution of a couple and then a family. I enjoyed the descriptions of West Palm Beach, Florida (even if I did have to skip over the bloody parts - the Grogans' first neighborhood was an unseemly one), and the glimpse into newspaper life. As for the parts about Marley, well, they awed me, for better or worse.


I found myself wondering about the connection between people and their pets and the lengths people are willing to go to in the name of it. As I'm sure you know, Marley was a terror. He ate everything in sight, including pregnancy tests, jewelry, and chicken feces; knocked strangers over; destroyed entire rooms to the point of harming himself; and got kicked out of obedience school. His "exuberance" couldn't be daunted by even vet-dispensed doggie tranquilizers and inevitably resulted in small fortunes worth of damages (at one point John jokes that he could've bought a yacht with what he'd spent). Yet save for one section in which John's wife Jenny, who is suffering from postpartum depression, orders him to get rid of Marley, disowning the yellow tornado is never an option. (Of course, they don't get rid of Marley. John works extra hard to train him, and Jenny emerges from her depression.) Interestingly, it is at this point that John reveals the true secret of Marley's appeal: "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. In a world full of bosses, he was his own master" (140).


I paused, so struck by the words that I reread the passage. It was pretty powerful stuff. For a minute I forgot that Marley was a smelly, hell-raising dog, instead seeing him as John did, a symbol of freedom and all the things most of us wanted to be.


Yet symbol of freedom or not, I found it hard to understand how one family could allow an animal to turn their lives upside down. The parts involving bowels, vomit, and drool were downright disgusting. As for normal life, it was a nightmare. The Grogans couldn't go out to dinner without churning stomachs for fear of what havoc Marley may wreak in their absence. They couldn't refurbish their home without acknowledging that all their hard work and money would most likely be wasted. Having food stolen off their plates was a daily occurrence. Every garment they owned was covered in dog hair, and they couldn't walk through their yard without dodging, well, you know. These harsh realities exposed their existence as the very antithesis of freedom. Such a life would drive me insane.


Even so, I had tears in my eyes when they had to put Marley to sleep.


The bf, of course, pounced upon this nugget of information, renewing his campaign for us to adopt a beagle. But I was quick to wipe my eyes and begin carping about how I didn't want our lives disrupted. There are few things I hate more, after all, than factors that threaten to alter my admittedly lazy and sometimes selfish existence. I said as much to the bf, and he just sighed and said he knew.

Still, I fear that one of these days he may break me.

So, what do you think? I know that many of you must be dog owners, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts and experiences, whether they be reminiscent of John's or otherwise.

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