Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

Leave a comment

Review of “The Longest Trip Home”

The Longest Trip Home: A Memoir

By John Grogan

HarperCollins, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-171324-8

I expected better from John Grogan.  I loved the pithy insights from his first book, Marley and Me, as well as his richly textured three-dimensional word pictures, nimble pacing and quirky chronicling.  Cynical, sour, and almost suffocatingly self-serving, The Longest Trip Home is a like a stiff shot of castor oil after a Florida-sized slice of cherry cheesecake.

Grogan’s “memoir” is coarse, self-absorbed and worst of all, tedious, eliciting the pizzazz of a plate of overcooked cabbage.  It’s essentially 300-plus pages of an anti-Catholic rant in which the author chronicles – and chortles at – his parents’ “Medieval interpretation of Catholicism, with its literal belief in guardian angels hovering over our shoulders to protect us from the dark agents of Satan,” which, among other things, “strikes both him and his wife, Jenny, as “as almost comically superstitious.”  This narcissistic romp though the author’s sexual conquests – both real and imaginary – also includes the horrors of Catholic school, altar boy service, and so on until the author smugly self-identifies himself as a “non-practicing Catholic.”

After grinding out twenty-four chapters running down his parents’ faith while simultaneously patting himself on the back for deceiving and misleading them about his behavior, mores and mindset for most of his growing up years, Grogan then seems baffled by his parents’ sense of hurt and betrayal when he finally comes clean as a thirty year-old about to be married to a non-Catholic.  He crows about how he has “Finally broken free from my parents’ influence” and “no longer felt the need to lie and obfuscate” and seems to think a crate of champagne is in order.  While Grogan crows about being “unapologetically my own person now…,” readers may wonder why we should care.  (I’m not Catholic, but still found this stuff tedious and bloated.) And did we really need to know every sordid detail about his Sister Mary Lawrence fantasies – as a second grader?

Although Grogan spends two-thirds of the book – 234 pages- ridiculing and belittling his parents’ staunch Catholicism and conservative views, Longest retains a glimmer of Grogan’s past panache.  In Part Three, Coming Home, the author seems to be trying to make up for the past 24 chapters by devoting 91 pages to some sort of penitential “maybe they were right” musings.  A trace of Grogan’s former prose prowess shines forth in the final chapters as he softens his stance while his mother and father succumb to old age, frailty and illness.  His tenderness toward his dad who is dying of leukemia and pneumonia is heartfelt and deep, but in a case of “too little, too late,” Grogan doesn’t quite pull it off.  Instead, he leaves the reader wondering if he’s “come home” to stay or if this is just another pit stop en route back to the land of “lies and obfuscation.”  What’s puzzling – and disappointing – is that the author is capable of much better.

Leave a comment

“Marley & Me”: More Than a ‘Dog Story’

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog

By John Grogran

Harper Collins, 2005

ISN: 13: 978-0-06-123822-2

I confess.  I’m a dyed-in-the-Alpo, no-bones-about-it, unabashed, bonafide dog lover, but even feline fans will appreciate John Grogan’s Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog.  An eloquent look at a “wondrously neurotic dog” and “what really matters in life,” this engaging, insightful epic recounts the zany escapades of a ninety-seven pound yellow Labrador retriever who “crashed through life with a gusto often associated with natural disasters” and the humans who loved him.

Marley begins when newlyweds John and Jen Grogan move to South Florida and begin budding careers as journalists at competing newspapers.  An adorable “clearance puppy”  turns their lives inside out and upside down for thirteen roaring, soaring, raucous, wonderful years – as only a “loopy” dog can.

A richly textured three-dimensional portrait of family life and love, Marley avoids maudlin sentimentality while offering honest “slice of life” vignettes to which anyone relate.  It’s also wickedly funny.  Catapult-like, this wild ride with “the world’s worst dog” races through mango snacks, gold necklace “dessert,” poodle distractions, drywall destruction, thunder phobias, ejection from obedience school, mishaps at Dog Beach, to loss, disappointment, kids and sleep deprivation, a scream in the night, job changes, moves, and the kind of unwavering loyalty, devotion, and crazy love that’s unique to canines.

Marley & Me is more than a “dog story.”  Grogan’s nimble pacing, pithy observations and quirky chronicling evoke both laugh-out-loud mirth and hand-me-another-tissue sniffles.  Marley makes you want to run, not walk, to the nearest mutt and hug him or her for dear life.

Speaking of which, Grogan’s first-person narrative runs the gamut of “everyday life” emotions: appreciation, apprehension, horror, humiliation, unbridled glee, intense sorrow, exasperation, exhaustion, effervescence and ebullience.  Chapters include And Puppy Makes Three, A Battle of Wills, The Things He Ate,  In the Land of Bocahontas, alfresco Dining, Lightning Strikes, The Big Meadow and Beneath the Cherry Tree.   A special bonus is a reprint of Grogan’s January 6, 2004 column about Marley from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Saying Farewell to a Faithful Pal, that inspired the book (bring Kleenex).

Nuts as Marley is, we get the feeling that the world would be a better place if more humans lived and loved like this crazy yellow dog.  Indeed, Marley and Me leaves no doubt as to why dogs, not cats, are tagged as “man’s best friend.”  By the end of the book you’ll feel like you’ve known the Grogans for years, and that Marley was your dog, too.  (Have I told you about Eve, our mellow yellow Lab? A Marley polar-opposite, Eve is by far and away the smartest member of our family.)

Even cat lovers will get this one.  Four stars (for occasional language, adult themes.)


Coming up:

Laughing All the Way: 10 Tips for the Hilarity Highway and a five-part mini-series: Write Away…