It was the title of the book that caught me right off -- Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog. World's worst dog? And looking at the cover, with a winsome yellow Labrador retriever, head cocked to one side, two big brown eyes... Oh surely not!
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Let's face it, it takes a person of stone to refuse the appeal of a puppy. Especially a fearless, wiggling pup that's got CUTE written all over him. This author John Grogan and his wife Jenny discover when they find a young Lab from a hobby breeder, who has cut the price for them. Young Marley, as he is named, is a happy, floppy goof of a puppy. Sure, he has his new humans well trained, and seems to be a good lad, but as anyone knows who has owned a working dog, puppies can grow up to be big, drooling, misbehaving creatures that eat and poop incessantly. But Marley is also a great comfort, giving unconditional love, a crazed zest for living, and incredibly gentle with children.
Most dogs can be trained to get rid of the worst behaviors with some care and consistancy from their owners. Not Marley. Marley is able to destroy drywall, chew through anything, thinks that screen doors are fun to zoom through, and manages to get kicked out of obedience school. It's an adventure that the Grogans never thought they'd get into. We follow their lives with Marley, told in John's first hand account, as they survive big and little crisises, raise three children, and find out that while Marley can be insufferable, life is also impossible without him.
It's a frolic of a book, and I found myself crying with laughter from one escapade to another, with asides about childbirth and conception, the posh inhabitants of Boca Raton, Florida -- the 'Bocahantases' are a hoot -- and the merits of organic gardening. John Grogan's story is told in first person, and he's able to catch the moment with humor and style, and I found that I was getting genuinely interested in him and his family. But as anyone who has been favored with a dog for a companion knows, there comes the day when you realize that time is finite for a dog, and I was sobbing when I was reading the last section of the book. Some may call it shameless manipulation of their readers, I call it writing from the gut.
It's a wonderfully written book, and moves along briskly from begining to end. For anyone who has a dog come into their lives, this is an affirmation of a book, and don't be surprised when you realize that you need to keep that box of tissues handy. I found myself remembering my own beloved spaniel, Gwenny, champion chewer of shoes, and escape artist extraordinaire who was kind enough to be with me in one of the bleakest periods of my life, and it proved that unconditional love is the best thing to ever happen in a person's life. Money can't replace it, status or a job doesn't even come close, and sometimes you can't even see it when it is there. But this book also made me see that anyone can be worthy of it.
I miss you, Gwenny, you dear sweet girl.
This is the perfect gift for the dog person in your life. I intend to buy copies for some very special people that I know. Highly recommended.
Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
2005; William Morrow