A Dog's Life

There is a pedigree that gives authority to certain dogs who are narrators of novels at least that is a point made by Maf, the autobiographical speaker in Andrew OHagans The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe. Among the many virtues of this novel are Mafs comments on his doggy peers and predecessors. Who would have thought so many literate dogs existed and took paw to paper, or at least barked at print?That there is a genre of dog stories, or stories told by dogs, gives significance to the hackneyed paws in pause for thought, but in the pages of OHagans book, the number of such stories enumerated comes as a surprise. What are the classic dog stories? I have to ask.

But laying that question aside and returning to Maf no more canny and literate a guide to the last months of Marilyns life can be found than her companion. He arrives as a gift from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn (by way of Natalie Woods mother) and accompanies her most perceptively though method-acting lessons, literary parties, political junkets (Yes, JFK appears but we are kept at a distance from any liaison), and Rat Pack squabbles.The tone of this novel, its wry commentary on life in the early sixties, and its narrators authoritative asides (in foot notes) speak much about OHagans own engaging wit and his wide ranging intellect. His earlier novel, Be Near Me, achieved what appears to be impossible a deeply sympathetic account of a priest involved with a teenage boy. His other novels have addressed similarly problematic subjects. Nothing in them suggested the charm and the command of Maf.As a study in point of view, the perspective defuses without mocking the complexities and excesses of Marilyn in her last days and the environment in which she existed. Her integrity is never in doubt to Maf, and by extension, his respect transfers easily to the reader.The satire is everywhere evident and it is a function of voice. Maf hears, understands (humans and all other creatures) and comments but is heard only by other animals and, of course, the reader. This is deft dramatic irony without being sly. The book as a whole has such charm that its conclusion comes as a regret that there is not more to read. You want to remain in range of Mafs voice, a pet who somehow reverses the relation of dog and Master.

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.

Also by this author
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