An encore for a memoir about a dog that was kicked out of obedience school
Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog. By John Grogan. Morrow, 291 pp., $21.95 (regular edition), $29.95 (gift edition).
By Janice Harayda
Perhaps no question is harder for critics to answer at cocktail parties than, “Can you recommend a good book?” Not because we have no ideas – most of us have hundreds – but because suggesting a book for someone you don’t know is like picking out a couch for a living room you haven’t seen. Recommending books for friends is easy. Recommending them for strangers is a killer, because few books appeal to everybody.
Even so, some books are more likely than others to please anybody from teenagers to great-grandparents. One is Marley and Me, John Grogan’s bestselling 2005 memoir of a lovable but incorrigible Labrador retriever. As a holiday gift, this book has almost everything going for it – it’s upbeat, unusually well-written, and tells a great story about subject of wide interest. And it’s just come out in a gift edition with a ribbon bookmark, many color photos of Marley and his owners, and a copy of his obedience school report card.
Critics loved Marley and Me, and you can find their words on easily on the Internet. So I’ll just mention a couple of things I like about the book. One is that it’s so funny, bookstores could sell it in the “humor” section. Letter carriers reacted to Marley “as if Cujo had just jumped out of the Stephen King novel.” Grogan tried giving him tranquilizers, but “He looked as though he belonged at a Grateful Dead concert.” And forget obedience school. Marley got kicked out.
Marley and Me is also about more than one man’s attempts to coexist with an endearing outlaw, the Butch Cassidy of dogs. Grogan weaves in subplots about his love for his wife and his ambivalence about South Florida, where he lived when he acquired Marley. which help to make his book as poignant as it is funny. And he avoids the impulse to canonize a pet that has turned so many books about animals to treacle. He allows that Marley might have known the secret to a good life: “Never slow down, never look back, live each day with adolescent verve and spunk and curiosity and playfulness.” But that’s as close as he gets to sentimentality. And wouldn’t you agree that if you get no closer to it this season, you’re ahead of the game?
Best Line: “As for brains, let me just say he chased his tail till the day he died, apparently convinced that he was on the verge of a major canine breakthrough.”
Worst line: None.
Editor: Mauro DiPreta
Published: October 2005 (first edition). October 2006 (gift edition).
Backscratching in our time
Jon Katz on John Grogan:
“Expect to laugh, cry and shake your head as you read this book … Marley is a great and memorable dog, and in the hands of a writer as observant, unsentimental and piercing as Grogan, this is a human-canine journey dog lovers will want to take.”
John Grogan on Jon Katz:
“Jon Katz understands dogs as few others do, intuitively and unburdened by sentimentality. His keen insights cut to the heart of the human-pet relationship – it’s immense joys and painful sorrows.”
From the dust jacket of A Good Dog (Villard, 2006)
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights recovered.