Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Not just a dog tale

Marley & Me
by John Grogan

This is not the usual kind of book I read but having stumbled on it while tidying the shelves and having a neurotic dog of my own I thought I would give it a go.  Essentially it is a simple account of a life shared with a dog, a little bit more than a simple biography of Marley's full throttle life, it recounts Grogan's journey through life from the early days of his marriage, to his middle age and the inevitable end of Marley's life. 
An established cynic, at times I found the book a little irritating, and others I recognised the familiarity of Grogan's experience with Marley.  The delinquent behaviour of  an active animal whose needs exceed his circumstances is familiar, as is the incredible destructive force that is an anxiety, panic riddled canine in the grips of a terror that we can only vaguely begin to understand.  It was the accounts of Marley's destructive prowess that attracted me to the book.  My own dog's out of control neurotic behaviour has been a source of endless irritation and despair.  Despite our best efforts we have never been able to coax her out of the more outrageous manifestations of her anxiety and have now reached the point of acceptance and pursuit of a policy of management rather than holding out any false hope that the behaviour will completely abate, for those reasons I found reading Marley and Me a worth while exercise, certainly Marley's extreme storm anxiety is a familiar experience in our household.  Each dog is to an extent different, but some behaviours occur universally, including the more extreme negative ones, for that reason Grogan's philosophical acceptance of Marley's worse destruction was somewhat reassuring.  Sometimes you just have be philosophical about what you cannot completely change and sometimes some dogs are just more challenging than others.  In my case I have never known life without dogs, but it has only been in recent years that have experienced life with a damaged and neurotic dog so it was with some interest I read Grogan's account. 

Marley &Me is more than just the story of a dog, it is Grogan's story as well, including the early dramas of family life.  The dramas of conception, child birth and early parenthood are all played out through this account of a faithfull family pet, giving the narrative slightly more substance than a simple dog story.  This is essentially a feel good story about the great value a dog can bring to our understanding of our lives, not just in terms of the undeniable value of their companionship but more in terms of lessons they and their lives can teach.  Grogan is a journalist and a columnist so essentially the book has much of the tone of an extended newspaper column which makes it very  readable.  It is not the normal type of reading material I would choose but it was an enjoyable journey, if for nothing else a sense of identification and shared experience:

"...I peeked in over her shoulder, and it was uglier than I had feared.  Marley was standing there, panting frantically, his paws and mouth bleeding.  Loose fur was everywhere, as though the thunder had scared the hair right out of his coat.  The damage was worse than anything he had done before, and that was saying a lot.  An entire wall was gouged open, obliterated clear down to the studs.  Plaster and wood chips  and bent nails were everywhere.  Electric wiring lay exposed.  Blood smeared the floor and the walls.  It looked, literally, like the scene of a shotgun homicide.
'Oh my God,' Jenny said a third time.
'Oh my God,' I repeated.  It was all either of us could say.
After several seconds of just standing there mute, staring at the carnage, I finally said, 'Okay we can handle this.  It's all fixable.'  Jenny shot me a look; she had seen my repairs. 'I'll call a drywall guy and have it professionally repaired', I said, I  won't even try to do this one myself.'  I slipped Marley one of his tranquilizers and worried silently that this latest destructive jag might throw Jenny back into the funk she had sunk into after Conor's birth.  Those blues, however, seemed to be long behind her.  She was surprisingly philosophical about it.' (p170).
A feel good account of life.  A book for pet lovers of all kinds but especially dog lovers of all kinds, not a great book but an okay read.

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