All throughout this book, I kept feeling deja vu since I too raised a rambunctious Lab - my beloved "Ivan" - named appropriately after Ivan the Terrible. That's him to the right.
Ivan was also frightened of storms, barked at birds flying over head, always thought he was the toughest dog in the neighborhood, dug the backyard up, ate everything in site, and was dumb as a box of nails. But he had the biggest heart and unwavering loyalty that made everything bad he did, not so bad. Ivan was a part of my life for 13 years and he's been gone for about five years now and I still miss him very much. Needless to say, I had a tough time getting through the last couple of chapters of this book. It had been a long time since I cried so much from reading a book. It was if I was reliving the whole painful experience of putting a dog to sleep again. I have always told people for all the many years of love and joy my animals have given me, it is worth the deep sadness, but it is still the hardest thing I have ever done to put a beloved pet to sleep.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Grogan is outstanding storyteller with a great story to tell, and he tells it well. People who have been around misbehaving dogs will nod knowingly as Grogan talks about Marley's various antics. No matter what your background is, you'll find yourself laughing aloud. You'll also find this book hard to put down. Very hard.
Throughout the book, the reader can't help but marvel at how much these people must have loved that dog to put up with the embarrassing moments, frequent inconveniences, high repair costs, and various troubles that came with having Marley. This love story is both moving and highly entertaining.
If you're looking for a dog story that makes a superhero out of a canine, this isn't it. Grogan instead shows us the nitty gritty reality of life with a dog that is far from perfect. We read about the slobber-slinging, the hair everywhere, the manic reaction to thunder, and many other problems that often drive dog owners to simply give up. These are the "reasons" so many dogs are abandoned on a regular basis.
But Marley wasn't just the normal slobbering, shedding big dog. Marley went to an obedience school run by a trainer with the motto "There is no such thing as a bad dog." And got kicked out. That one fact only begins to paint the picture of life with Marley.
As you keep turning pages in the book (an act that is nearly impossible to resist), you get the impression that this is a story about how the Grogans loved their dog despite his flaws. You wonder how they managed to endure. It's not that they put up with an eccentricity or two. Or that they overlooked one or two problems. Life with Marley was a constant stream of problems, and that stream often reached flood proportions.
Indeed, at one point, Jenny Grogan had enough. Shortly after having their second child, she repeatedly told John the dog had to go. But eventually, love conquered all and Marley stayed.
Yes, it sure looks like a story of how love for a dog triumphed over so much trouble and distress. But in the end, we see that's not quite the case. We come to realize this story is really about the tremendous love and loyalty this dog had for the Grogans. John devoted some pages to bringing the concept out into the full light of day.
Upon reading his thoughts on this, I found myself reflecting on the deeper meanings of life. Entertainment and enlightenment in one book--what's not to like? Grogan stayed true to the premise of the book all the way through. But then, Marley stayed true all his life.