As immortalized in John Grogan’s millions-selling memoir Marley & Me in 2005, his head forever cocked sagely to the side in the adorable cover photograph, the yellow Lab Marley is a troublemaking yet life-affirming nonfiction hero for our times — James Frey mixed with Morrie, then turned into a household pet. Unfortunately, ? ”the world’s worst dog” exited at the three-hankie end of Grogan’s affectionate tale, leaving his master in ? the lurch for a sequel. And in The Longest Trip Home, Grogan’s follow-up memoir, Marley is more keenly missed than ever.
Harsh as it is to say (one imagines Marley growling in protest), the new book reads like the kind of thing you write when your first memoir is a runaway success, so you simply have to write another. It’s the story of ?everything in his life Grogan didn’t cover in Marley, ? and its two separate threads never cohere. The first ? details the author’s devoutly Catholic but unextraordinary boyhood in Michigan, as he trips on his altar-boy robe at Mass and lies at his first confession. Even later, as he gets into scrapes with Boone’s Farm booze, stolen ? fireworks, and his first kiss (”I was born with abundant energy and few tools for containing it”), it’s as if Grogan is playing a less cute version of Marley — he chews ? up the furniture a little, yet remains lovable and does little permanent damage.
Halfway through the story, young Grogan is now a ? man, and the book suddenly veers toward his deeply ? Catholic parents, particularly his sick father. Here’s the problem: If this memoir is about being a son, Grogan’s dad should’ve been a stronger presence in the first half; if it’s about struggling with Catholicism, Grogan should’ve struggled with it more, because he seems to have dismissed the religion before he was out of junior high. Grogan has put his life to paper without shaping it. The Longest Trip Home feels more like an uneventful 334-page back-jacket author bio than a book. C