20 May 2006

It's Only A Dog

I was skeptical about reading Marley & Me. It seemed too trite of a subject to be much more than a long article -- how could it be a full length book? With all of the ruckus over memoirs recently, if this wasn't too far-fetched (or maybe if it was), I did think that the made-for-memoirs details would provide a few laughs.

I am a snob about what I read (what a surprise!). It had better be good; it had better inform or entertain or make me think. I better not wish to get back those lost hours spent reading the book. A book about a dog? Not likely.

I read beyond the first chapter. Yes, it was short, but a poor excuse for a book can lose me in 2 or 3 pages. By chapter 3 I hadn't wanted to throw the book across the room, but I wasn't convinced that I needed to finish the book. But then something happened: my own very old dog's health changed drastically overnight. I spent the better part of two days sitting beside him, gently petting him, wishing I could ease his pain, letting him know that he was as valued to me as I think we've been to him.

And that lead me back, a few weeks later to Marley. It is just that affinity between pet & pet owner, between companion & friend, that this book is about. Told in brief slice-of-life chapters, John Grogan recounts the tales of Marley, the rambunctious, always a puppy, canine terror that ruled the roost for 13 years. By telling the stories about the dog, the reader also comes to know John Grogan, his love of gardening and of writing, of his family, and of the pains and joys of being a parent, a neighbor, or a friend. Throughout the book there are plenty of opportunities for the book to fall into a saccharine mess. After all, by it's nature, it is perched dangerously close to such a fall into the sugar bowl. And yet, there are episodes that you can't help but laugh at, like the description of a cross-country move involving an airplane ride with 3 young childen, some goldfish, crickets, frogs, a snail, and one tranquilized dog that howls so loudly in the hold that all of the passengers can hear him.

Pet owners know that it is never 'just' a pet. Reading about how Marley was not just a dog, but a companion and family member to the Grogans is something pet owners will understand. Marley & Me may not be a thought-provoking literary jaunt that you'll remember for a long time, but it is a lighthearted read that almost all pet owners would enjoy spending a few hours with.

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