I did things backwards with this one - I saw the movie before I read the book. I had been avoiding the book, to be honest, despite glowing recommendations from people I know well; it was the movie that made me want to read it. The film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book as far as the essential storyline goes.
John Grogan was inspired to write this memoir of family life with "the World's Worst Dog" by the deluge of responses he received for the column he wrote for the Philadelphia Enquirer shortly after Marley's death. That's not a spoiler, and since the Grogans' story is told chronologically, if you've had at least one beloved pet in your lifetime, the last few chapters of the book are tough. One thing I learned from reading Marley & Me was that signs of aging can appear very quickly in dogs, and I couldn't help projecting myself and my dog into that scenario.
Grogan is a career journalist, and that may have helped him avoid an excess of sentiment in the writing; the ending is certainly sad, but I didn't feel like I was being milked for tears. And up until that part, there's a lot of funny stuff. Just as in the movie, Marley's antics are comedy gold, but the writing itself was frequently humorous as well. I laughed out loud often and read bits to my husband. If you saw the movie first, like I did, you'll find that most of Marley's most memorable acts came straight from real life - they didn't all get into the film, and some were changed a bit, but nothing he did in the movie was invented. It didn't have to be.
It was reassuring to learn that the Grogans were more competent dog owners in real life than they were portrayed onscreen, particularly in the early stages. Yes, Marley did get kicked out of obedience school, but he was re-enrolled when he got a bit older and mastered the curriculum the second time around (and proceeded to eat his diploma at the graduation ceremony). He did suffer from serious anxiety, particularly during thunderstorms, and that provoked some of his most unruly and destructive behavior. (Having put my own dog on anti-anxiety medication for similar behavior a few months ago - and it has helped, by the way - I'm sympathetic. I'm also sympathetic to the Grogans' misgivings about medicating Marley, since I've had them too.) On the other hand, he was perfectly housebroken, except at the very beginning and the very end, and he stayed off the furniture, except when he tried to eat it.
Enzo, the canine narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain, often laments being a dog and hopes to come back as a human in his next life. While Marley doesn't get to tell his own story, I can't imagine he would have ever wanted to be anything but a dog. He revels in being a dog. He is loyal, loving, and affectionate - by all measures except for his incorrigible behavior, he's pretty much everything you could ask for in a dog. Marley's master tells the story of their lives together with loyalty and affection, too.