Marley & Me by John Grogan

Read: 17 December, 2008

Entertaining, funny, sweet, and sad – but with no real substance. Marley & Me gives a nice snapshot into just over a decade of a couple’s life, from the time they get a new puppy, through the experience of having children, a new job, and moving to an entirely different part of the country, until the dog’s eventual death. It’s a sweet story and the writing language is quite good (more on that in a second), but there’s no real meat to the story.

The closest Grogan gets to adding a layer to his story is the idea that he could learn from Marley about how to live his own life. However, while this is mentioned a few times throughout the story (yes, he does come to the same epiphany at least twice), it never seems to have any impact on his life. He learns, but he never applies. And as far as epiphanies go, it’s not even a really good one. It’s fairly standard Hollywood comedy fare (“look, that guy is so crazy, man is he ever crazy! Hey, you know what? He really enjoys his life! Maybe I should be a little crazy too! But not really… not like him, anyway.”).

My other complaint is that the book is rather repetitive at times. It’s almost as though Grogan thought of two really great ways to say what he wanted to say – so rather than choose the best, he just stuck both in.

And finally, I didn’t really approve of the way the Grogan family treated Marley. I think we’ve all gotten a pet before fully realizing what that pet entails. However, I feel that they dealt with it poorly. The worst example of this would be putting the aged and dying (not to mention terrified of kennels) dog into a kennel while the family goes to Disneyland. It strikes me as unbelievably selfish. If they really considered Marley to be part of the family, they would have either waited until Marley was gone or found some way to accomodate his needs during their absence (especially considering Marley’s history with kennels).

The part that really gets to me is that the narrator doesn’t seem to have any sense whatsoever that going to Disneyland at such a time might have been selfish or harmful to his dog. The title refers to Marley as the “world’s worst dog,” and that gets to the heart of the problem: never does Grogan acknowledge that he may have made poor choices in the care of his dog. If Marley rips his nails out and breaks his teeth because he’s in a panic about being locked in a garage during a lightening storm, it’s because Marley’s a bad dog. It’s sad, and I think it’s indicative of a culture that treats animals as possessions and objects while simultaneously paying lip service to the idea that they are “part of the family.”

Other than that, the book is an entertaining read. It’s like watching TV – it’s a nice way to pass an afternoon, but it leaves me feeling still hungry at the end.

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