When man's best friend is the world's worst dog
The memoir genre has taken a beating in recent months, with some writers accused of fudging facts or inventing events to make their life stories more salacious. But John Grogan, a columnist for the <i>Philadelphia Inquirer
</i>, didn't need to create the exploits in his blockbuster memoir, <b>Marley &andamp Me</b>: the inspiration for the book, his yellow Labrador retriever Marley, got into enough verifiable mischief and mayhem to fill a few manuscripts without straining a paw.
"I'm a working journalist, so when you say <i>nonfiction</i>, it's got to be true," Grogan says. "I want to be honest and write from my heart because when you start hedging your bets, that's when people can tell you're not being totally candid." Readers and animal lovers, never fear—the book, subtitled Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, candidly details the early adventures of Jenny and John Grogan, mild-mannered, starry-eyed newlyweds who thought that raising a dog would be good practice for raising children.
Cut to their purchase of a rambunctious, attention-deficit-disordered puppy who grew into a big boisterous lug that crashed through his days, leaving wrecked screen doors, shattered nerves, angry obedience instructors, muddied clothing and a long trail of slobber behind him.
"We were adults by age but we weren't grown up yet," Grogan says. "Our patience had never been tested. Suddenly we're the responsible ones and he was the incorrigible one." Grogan's chronicle of their attempts to curb their beloved beast has body-slammed the bestseller lists (Marley would be proud) and was named a best book of 2005 by the <I>New York Times</i> (which Marley would have eaten). Since its publication last fall, the book has made 17 trips back to press for 720,000 copies in print.
While Grogan didn't make a conscious decision that this was going to be a book that talks about our relationship every bit as much as it talks about the dog, his memoir documents a marriage and family weathering a miscarriage, children, post-partum depression, new towns and new jobs, while living with a dog that consistently provokes laughter and frustration and teaches them to be themselves even when that irks everyone else. "A family is a unit and you accept the members of that family as they are . . . but you don't give up on them," Grogan says.
The touching story has struck a huge chord with both women and your stereotypical big, tough men, according to Grogan, who has received more than 2,000 e-mails from readers to date not only praising and reacting to the book, but sharing their own bad dog stories. "Part of having a challenging dog is that you have to invest more of yourself emotionally to make the relationship work," Grogan says. "There's a tighter bond between owners and their bad dogs."
Grogan eventually had to open an online bulletin board and his publisher is sending him out on a book tour reprise this spring, since readers can't seem to get enough of Marley. "This was a book from the heart," Grogan says, "a book I felt I needed to write." While the family now includes three children and another lab, Gracie ("everything Marley wasn't," according to Grogan), the book is a testament to the important role one dog played in a family, teaching them about unconditional love, commitment and acceptance.
"Marley brought qualities into the relationship that helped us grow and learn and become the couple and the parents that we ended up being," Grogan says, "which I would argue is better than what we would have been otherwise. "