Marley & Me

Marley & Me by John GroganFull Title: Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog
John Grogan
Publisher: HarperCollins (2005)
Number of Pages: 289
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I got this book: My sister Catherine returned it to me; apparently, I loaned it to her several years ago and forgot that I ever even had it.
ISBN: 978-0-06-081708-4

Like a Moth to a Flame

A couple years ago, my husband and I watched the movie Marley & Me a few months in to owning our own troublesome lab, Molly. I have forgotten most of the movie by now, but I do remember that we laughed through the familiar scenes of first time dog owners struggling to contain a hectic puppy, and then were surprised that though the movie was presented as a family film, it dealt with several heavy themes. I’m curious how similar the book is to the movie and how these themes will be presented. Besides that, I highly suspect the book contains a great deal more funny dog stories than the movie had time for, and I could never pass that up.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “During our next outing, Marley surgically removed the woofer cone from the same speaker. The speaker wasn’t knocked over or in any way amiss; the paper cone was simply gone, as if someone had sliced it out with a razor blade. Eventually he got around to doing the same to the other speaker. Another time, we came home to find that our four-legged footstool was now three-legged, and there was no sign whatsoever—not a single splinter—of the missing limb.” (p.98)

4. “Like most males, I had spent every waking moment from the age of fifteen trying to convince the opposite sex that I was a worthy mating partner. Finally, I had someone who agreed. I should have been thrilled. For the first time in my life, a woman wanted me more than I wanted her. This was guy heaven. No more begging, no more groveling. Like the best stud dogs, I was at last in demand. I should have been ecstatic. But suddenly it all just seemed like work, and stressful work at that. It was not a rollicking good romp that Jenny craved from me; it was a baby. And that meant I had a job to perform. This was serious business.” (p.74)

3. “As pathetic as it sounds, Marley had become my male-bonding soul mate, my near-constant companion, my friend. He was the undisciplined, recalcitrant, nonconformist, politically incorrect free spirit I had always wanted to be, had I been brave enough, and I took vicarious joy in his unbridled verve. No matter how complicated life became, he reminded me of its simple joys. No matter how many demands were placed on me, he never let me forget that willful disobedience is sometimes worth the price. In a world full of bosses, he was his own master.” (p.140)

2. “The more we explored, the more we fell in love, both with South Florida and with each other. And always in the background, it seemed, was Bob Marley. He was there as we baked on the beach, as we painted over the dingy green walls of our house, as we awoke at dawn to the screech of wild parrots and made love in the first light filtering through the Brazilian pepper tree outside our window. We fell in love with his music for what it was, but also for what it defined, which was that moment in our lives when we ceased being two and became one. Bob Marley was the soundtrack for our new life together in this strange, exotic, rough-and-tumble place that was so unlike anywhere we had lived before.” (pp.12-3)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Despite everything, all the disappointments and unmet expectations, Marley had given us a gift, at once priceless and free. He taught us the art of unqualified love. How to give it, how to accept it. Where there is that, most of the other pieces fall into place.” (p.287)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“While Jenny and John discuss their happy childhoods with their constant canine companions, I squirm a little jealously. We had border collies briefly when I was about four and five years old, but then had to sell them when my father became a preacher: no dogs allowed in the parsonage; it’s not our house. So I grew up fawning over everyone else’s dogs and when I got married, my husband and I bought a crazy black Labrador retriever and named her Molly. Still, to this day, despite having my own dog, if I see a dog while I’m out, I have to drop everything and rush over to say hello.”

“John’s attempt to convince Jenny of Marley’s future importance at dog shows reminds me of my attempts to teach Molly how to dance. When Molly was a puppy, I watched a fantastic video of a woman and her golden retriever dancing in a competition. Their synchronized boogying to ‘You’re The One That I Want’ was inspiring. I decided Molly would have to learn to dance. I taught her very quickly to walk through my legs, to spin, to circle me, to jump…but turning on music was invoking chaos. Whenever I dance, Molly thinks I’m challenging her and jumps on me and nibbles my feet and barks. Inevitably, despite my efforts otherwise, all dancing ends in play-fighting.”

“I’m very familiar with the cry of a lonely puppy, and I applaud John’s resolve to not let Marley into his bed the first night. Molly slept with us the first night, which is to say, my husband slept while Molly crawled all over me and I stayed up all night trying to keep her from chewing through the sheets (or my hands). The next few nights, I worked on crate-training her while my husband was out of town. No sleep for me those nights, either, as Molly howled and whined the night away…”

“John’s descriptions of Labrador retrievers are spot-on—the tail commentary makes me grin; I’m always making fun of Molly for her big butt knocking over everything. My in-laws yelp when Molly comes near them—apparently, her tail is like a whip and leaves welts on them, something I apparently never notice.

“Even the way Molly walks on her leash is similar to Marley. I get embarrassed taking Molly on walks. She strains so hard she chokes herself and gets frothy at the mouth; it looks like I dehydrate my dog when really, she’s just being a stubborn pain. She weighs almost as much as I do and is strong and thick-skulled. We ended up getting her a pinch collar when I was pregnant because she kept pulling me over. I always rush to explain the mean-looking collar when people are petting her. It looks awful, but it’s a matter of self-preservation. Plus, she’s figured out how to escape from a regular collar—and even got herself out of the pinch collar once.”

“By the detailed description of Marley, I can tell that he’s a great deal larger than our Molly so it’s funny to me that people react to them in the same way: giving her extra space on the sidewalk or—my favorite—being paralyzed in fear outside our front door when they hear her barking. Molly once scared off a couple of Mormon boys before I had a chance to get to the door, and when baby Max was recovering from jaundice, a hospital worker who was coming by to pick up some equipment called me from my driveway to ask me to meet him out there. Molly was barking and jumping in the window and was just so terrifying he wouldn’t come to my front door.”

“I found out I was pregnant a few months after we got Molly, so I was excited reading about John and Jenny’s discovery of pregnancy, and then reminded of my terrible fear of miscarriage as my secret got out. I hadn’t wanted people to know until we’d been for the first ultrasound, but everyone found out and blabbed anyway, which left me feeling as though the gift of my first pregnancy was taken from me and no longer mine. I had cousins who miscarried and I dreaded the thought of having to do what they did and take back the joyous news. I ache reading about Jenny’s miscarriage because now, with my little boy beside me, even though it seems like the fear should be far away, it’s even closer.”

“Marley just confirms what I have assumed about labs since Molly came to live with us: labs are so smart they know that they don’t have to listen. Molly knows that whatever she wants to do is worth the scolding. If she eats something or runs off, I can’t take away the fun she’s had. Really, what am I going to do? Starve her? Shoot her? Of course not. The risks of disobeying me are nothing compared to the joy of, say, jumping into my sister-in-law’s carefully cultivated koi pond.”

“The story of Jenny’s labor is nothing like my own, yet it somehow reawakens all my anxieties. I remember that I was not scared until I reached the hospital and was thrust into triage, the first of many cold and unwelcoming rooms, and one which was not shown to us on the tour months earlier. I guess if I’d been told then that I was going to be stripped down in the bathroom and a nurse-in-training was going to wrap a test strip around her finger and shove it into me multiple times to see whether my water really had broke (apparently, some women wet their pants and think it’s the real thing), I never would’ve shown up at all.

“Some women will tell you that you lose all sense of modesty over the course of your pregnancy and that by the end of your labor, you don’t care who sees you naked or how many hospital employees walk in and out while your legs are open. This was not so for me. In fact, the opposite was true. The more I was exposed to people, the more I wanted to bolt the door. I felt like there should’ve been a rule about how many different nurses, doctors, and assistants could see that part of me. I should at least have been able to count it on one hand, right? It was a humiliating part of what I knew was supposed to be a beautiful experience.”

“Bringing our baby boy Max home was a relief to me. Besides getting to leave the fishbowl that was my recovery room, I had missed Molly and I wanted her to meet the baby. Like Marley, she was eager to get her wet nose all over the newcomer. I don’t think she’s ever been jealous of him for getting attention; she was more jealous of us for getting to hold him and play with him.”

“After a successful two pregnancies, John writes of his second baby being unable to keep food down. Jenny would nurse the baby, he would eat well, and then he would spit everything back up, leaving him underweight. Jenny said something that I understood on a deep and heartbreaking level: ‘I feel so inadequate…. Moms are supposed to be able to give their babies everything they need.’

“While my son didn’t have trouble keeping down his food after nursing, and he nursed well and often, the doctor told me he wasn’t getting enough calories, and at four months, he hadn’t gained enough weight. She told me to supplement with formula; I immediately resisted that notion, hurt because the implication was that my provision was insufficient for my child and therefore, I was not a proper mother. She told me bluntly that if I did not put Max on formula, she would call social services. I burst into tears and she stoically responded, ‘You might have post-partum depression. You should set up a meeting with one of our counselors.’ I suppose feeling like a bad mother and being bullied into formula-feeding without discussing other options isn’t enough of a reason to cry.

“As I am intensely conscious and hyper-aware of practically everything, one of the hardest parts for me of being a new mother was the feeling of constant judgment coming from others, even people with good intentions. Almost all the women I know are outspoken against formula-feeding, and after my desire for a natural labor was denied me, I wanted very much to be able to feed my baby in the most natural way. Instead, here was another doctor telling me my body wasn’t enough.

“John talks of Jenny suffering from post-partum; I disagree. Women have so many hormonal differences from men that it seems like the world wants to pin all of our emotions on our menstrual cycles or pregnancies, rather than accepting that we have legitimate emotions apart from our hormones. If Jenny was acting depressed and was unable to handle stress, it could just have been the natural reaction to feeling like her body was broken and that she couldn’t be the sole provider for her child. You can grieve without being clinical.”

“After listing the millions of wrong-doings and imperfections Marley has become famous for, it strikes me when John then lists the characteristics he wishes he shared with Marley, joyous being the main trait, followed by being his own master. I think that’s the key thing about labs; they’ll do what you ask if it seems like fun to them, or if they happen to take pity on you, but otherwise, if it’s not fun, why do it? Molly and my husband share a lot of the same traits. Besides the obvious (big, hungry, doofy, and occasionally stinky), they’re adventurous, funny, eager, fun seeking, and above all, loving and forgiving. It isn’t a bad thing to want to emulate your pet when they have qualities like those.”

“John apologizes here and there for things, not outright, but in his tone. He over-explains their disciplining of Marley, for instance, and talks uncomfortably about turning the breezeway/mudroom between the garage and main house into a nursery. It distracts a little from the overall tale, but I understand. Everyone has their beliefs and systems when it comes to raising pets and children, and I can certainly be apologetic with mine, or I’ll leave out information that I think someone may disagree with. After all, I certainly did some over-explaining myself when talking about Molly’s pinch collar.

“I suppose it has to do with a shift in culture that has made everyone nosy and suspect at the same time. Spankings are called into question after decades of being a non-issue, and I just read a story about a mother who was arrested after a neighbor called the police to say that her children were playing outside unattended, which used to be pretty standard. At my last home out in the country, I was afraid to bring Molly on quick errands after hearing that animal control might break into my car and take her. Clearly, yes, there are people who beat and neglect their children and pets, but it seems that even kind and loving people are afraid of how their actions might seem.

“John’s embarrassment at having to set up a nursery in a glorified hallway seems unfounded to me, but I spent a lot of my childhood sharing small bedrooms with my three sisters. Not only is it common, but none of us are the worse for it. In any case, I don’t think John needs to worry over his treatment of his family, since the rest of his story proves love again and again.”

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