January 10, 2019KR BlogBlogLiterature

A Novel From the Perspective of Marilyn Monroe’s Dog

Marilyn Monroe’s dog Maf, or Mafia Honey as his pneumatic mistress dubs him, is a present from Frank Sinatra–just one of many colorful celebrities to grace the pages of Andrew O’Hagan’s clever novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe. Maf is not just your average tail-wagger; he is a telepathic Trotskyite with a wry sense of humor, “the sort of dog who is set for foreign adventures and ordained to tell the story,” and the only one who worships writers more than Marilyn.

Yet because Marilyn thinks of Maf as a mere pet, unaware of his towering intellect and familiarity with the works of Freud, he is privy to her every private moment. Lucky for us, this puts him in the perfect position to tell her tale. Through Maf, we see Marilyn’s “rituals of becoming,” both the private self that is “smelly and fun” and the public self that emerges after she applies her make-up and breathy persona.

O’Hagan draws an interesting parallel between the life of a pet and the life of a sex symbol. Like all great tellers of tales, Maf empathizes with his subject. As a dog with a rich inner life who cannot speak, he understands what it is to be treated like an empty vessel designed for other people’s pleasure, misinterpreted, if interpreted at all. As he puts it to Marilyn at one point, “You know damn well you can’t hear me. You’re doing to me what you say those studio bosses do to you. Stop assuming I’m only really here to accord with your goddamn version of me.”

In this book both dog and woman know so well the helplessness of those expected to entertain others while their own inner life and motivations are either not taken into account or created for them. Perhaps Maf and Marilyn admire authors so much because they can invent rather than being invented. Of course, the novel’s supreme irony is that Maf thinks of storytellers as wizards and longs to create such magic even as he tells us a story and appears as a character is the work of just such a wizard.