Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
John and Jenny Grogan are blissful newlyweds who can't leave well enough alone. Unable to keep a houseplant alive, Jenny worries over her maternal instincts. If she drowns a dieffenbachia, how will she do with their future baby? The Grogans decide to hone their nurturing talents on a puppy. The Labrador retrievers in Gary Larson's "The Far Side" are hilarious, pointing them toward Marley, a bouncy Lab pup.
But it isn't until they've chosen him that John reads further on the breed. To his dismay he finds that, along with many excellent attributes, Labs sometimes have less ideal qualities: an eternal energy-driven puppyhood, a constant need for human companionship, and occasional difficulties with training. John reads that he should have inspected both of Marley's parents since much Lab behavior is inherited. His memory of his one glimpse of Marley's father --- a charging, frothing, mud-caked crazed canine --- does not bode well.
As that tiny bundle of energy grows, Marley's energy does not lessen. John and Jenny work to deflect and deflate some of his intimidating exuberance with a schedule of walks, runs, and games of fetch. When they can't quite contain Marley enough to make him socially acceptable, they bring in the professionals. However, Marley flunks obedience school after he drags his owner and the teacher ("Miss Dominatrix") around, performs a gynecologist-worthy exam on a poodle, and otherwise kicks up his heels. He jumps up on people, steals food, digs up shrubs, tears right through the screen in screen doors, and hauls tables around at outdoor cafes. At home, thunderstorms panic him into digging and scratching through floors and doors, destroying the garage and then the laundry room.
But he also comforts Jenny when she is inconsolable over a miscarriage. Later on, when John and Jenny's son Patrick is born, Marley is unexpectedly gentle with him. Jenny's next pregnancy lands her in bed for months; the rambunctious Lab stays quietly by her bed keeping her company.
I don't have enough superlatives at my command to describe how much I adored this book, which I devoured in less than a day. I constantly laughed out loud, stared at my own beloved yet high-spirited Lab mix, and muttered, "Boy, have I been there!" (although Marley's over-the-top antics make Romeo appear to be a model of perfect decorum in contrast) This is the kind of book that you are compelled to read aloud to whoever is in the vicinity. (Of course, when the reader is snorting tears of laughter, most people oblige by asking, "What's so funny?")
We all know that a good dog story makes the reader cry. So, fair warning: Stock up on tissues because this is an EXCELLENT dog story.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 18, 2005