I’m a sucker for a book about dogs. I mean, dogs, right? Nature’s most perfect animal? Except they’re not really natural, I guess. But anyway, what I love even more than a book about a dog is a book about a bad dog, because it makes me feel better about my own unruly beasts. The only problem about true stories about dogs is that they generally cover the whole lifespan of the dog. That is, from start to finish. That is, the dog usually dies at the end of the book. Well, I guess crying is good for cleaning out the sinuses.
Marley & Me is a love story, as most dog stories are. It was engagingly written, and while I can see places where there might have been some dramatic exaggeration or hyperbole, it didn’t matter because the spirit of each anecdote shone through.
There were two things that irritated me about the book. First was the impression I got that Grogan assumes his readers will share his race and class position. Encounters with poverty and brownness are certainly Othered. Not necessarily in an offensive way, and maybe it’s understandable in a first-person narrative, but these moments jolted me out of the story.
The second thing is how much it bothers me that Marley’s humans had the misfortune to hire trainers and receive advice about dog training that falls into the Alpha Dog / dominance / choke chain camp. Things like kneeing Marley in the chest to prevent him from jumping on people (potential damage to chest, neck, throat, lungs, diaphragm), or conceiving of the human-dog relationship as one in which dominance and mastery has a place (emotional and relational damage), or using a choke chain (potential damage to throat, thyroid, and eyes), for example, made me cringe. I am not judging Grogan about this, since in my early days of living with dogs, I took advice from people I trusted about how to raise, discipline, and live with dogs that I now consider abusive. But it breaks my heart that well-intentioned dog people are still subjecting their dogs to these outdated, disproven, and cruel methods.
However, dogs, like people, are often capable of enduring a lot of crap while remaining kind, loving, and friendly. Marley seems to have been one such dog. His exuberance and appetite for life (and various material objects) made for an entertaining read.
Just remember, the dog dies. Keep some tissues handy.
Marley & Me by John Grogan. 2005. ISBN 9780060817084.