Thursday, March 31, 2011
Even from his humble beginnings in an English farmhouse, Maf is a very special dog. Able to cogitate for hours on the strange proclivities of the humans surrounding him, Maf becomes the companion of one of the most famous women in all of history while still a puppy. When the mother of young ingénue Natalie Wood buys a group of dogs to give away to her favorites, she invites Frank Sinatra to pick a dog for the up and coming film actress, Marilyn Monroe. He, of course, can’t resist the little dog with the heart of gold, and as soon as Marilyn receives him, she christens him Mafia Honey, or Maf for short. As Marilyn glides through her glamorous life, Maf begins to see the fragile and scared woman behind the facade, and as he converses with all the other animals around him, an unflinching picture of the famous personalities that surround him begins to emerge. Rich in philosophical and moral discourse, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog is a surprisingly rich and nuanced peek into the lives of some of the most public faces of the 50’s and 60’s. As Maf shares his deepest and most personal reflections on them, the never before seen world around these once bright and burning stars is expertly revealed.
I have to say this book was hit and miss for me. While I do think the storyline was unique and the perspective original, sometimes the execution left me a little cold. I think the main problem was that there was a lot of name dropping, and while that normally doesn’t bother me, the names being dropped were stars, philosophers and artists whom I knew very little about. This isn’t really a criticism, because I think readers who are more familiar with the personalities of this time would really enjoy the book, and I’m sure readers who are more at home in the world of philosophy would find it entertaining as well. As it was, the book went a little over my head, though there were some really wonderful and astute aspects about this particular story.
First off, the book being written from Maf’s perspective was a very clever device. He was able to see and hear everything and make his own very intelligent appraisals about it all without the those around him (other than the animals) hearing him. This gave the story an almost confidential and secretive feel, because the opinions of Maf were never motivating factors of the book. He was able to see and detect things that eluded his human counterparts, and he was quickly able to assess a situation and draw some very penetrating conclusions that remained locked between the reader and himself. He was sometimes fond of pontificating and had little time for those who were menacing to his owner, particularly Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was not graciously served in this book. He was, in effect, a bully and a ball-buster who used his star power and angry charisma to insert himself into politics and also a spoiled man whom no one thought to check or correct. Maf saw him as insensitive and brutish, an ego-driven and spoiled man with dark forces ready to do his bidding.
Maf’s reflections on Marilyn were also very telling. she was portrayed as very witty and charming but overly naïve when it came to the people around her. The best way I can describe her character was lost and easily swayed. Her drive to be taken seriously and to appear glamorous and high functioning was, in effect, one of her most fatal flaws. Maf doesn’t go into detail about her frightening spiral into the world of drugs or her stints on the casting couch, and surprisingly, the book ends before her untimely and tragic death. From the vantage point we have, Marilyn is reflected with love and is truly endowed with the gravity she deserves.
Another pertinent point is Maf’s observations of the animal world. He speaks at length about his own interpretations on the anthropomorphism animals and of the philosophers that have espoused the same sentiments. A lot of these explanations were interesting to read but went somewhat over my head, though they were grounded in fact. The amalgamation of all of these elements were sometimes portentous and at other times candidly funny, but I had trouble with the immense weight of the implications made by the narrative.
Though this book didn’t entirely work for me in all the areas it explored, I still think it was a very revealing read, and in most ways successful. I think readers of a certain generation would get a lot from this story, and even I had no trouble falling in love with little Maf. I appreciated the creativity and candor of this book immensely, and feel that although it tried to accomplish a lot within a relatively small space, it was clearly a book that made me think differently, not only about the animal world, but about some of the foremost legends in cinema history. A challenging and reflective read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.