Lily and the Octopus (NetGalley)
Simon & Schuster
I! LOVE! DOGS! I! WANT! TO! READ! I thought when I saw the cover of Lily and the Octopus with its cute little dachshund. The blurb said it was magic, that reading it would be an unforgettable ride, and compared the novel to The Life of Pi,.
Was I in for a surprise.
From the first pages, I knew exactly what this octopus thing was when Lily’s owner Ted said: “It’s not often you see an octopus up close, let alone in your living room, let alone perched on your dog’s head like a birthday party hat … the octopus has a good grip and clings tightly over her eye … it’s harder than I would have imagined … less like a water balloon and more like bone.” You know, too, right?
So now I had a choice. Do I continue to read a novel that turns around a beloved dog dying from a brain tumor, or not? I mean, it’s only the first few pages, so I do have a choice. (And with not even a year between me and the death of our beloved Trixie, I think twice, believe me.)
But on I read–because how many novels do you run across with a talking dachshund who loves Chris Pratt and can quote from the movie Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett? A dachshund who is snarky, but whose love for her man is as exuberant as her love for ice cream. Here’s Lily on her first ice cream cone: WHAT! IS! THIS! CLOUD! THAT! YOU’RE! LICKING! I! LOVE! TO! LICK! THINGS! WOULD! I! LIKE! TO! LICK! THAT! And that’s how Lily speaks because to her, life is just that good. Every minute is an adventure.
We come to know (and love) Lily through Ted’s memories of her: their first meeting, her life as a pup, and their life together with his partner Jeffrey. (Make that former partner.) We also learn that Ted’s personal life is in shambles–to lose Lily would mean he had lost his last link, he thinks, to love. We follow Ted and Lily to the vet and hear the prognosis, and we watch as the tumor effects Lily, first by stealth and eventually by storm. So Ted sets out to slay this octopus, to hunt it down and kill it–very much like Captain Ahab–in a fantastical (or is it?) trip on a charter boat. And it’s only after facing his demon–the octopus–on the trip that Ted can let go.
Ted’s goodbyes to Lily are probably all too familiar to those who have lost a beloved pet and his list of nicknames for Lily at the end will take the wind right out of you. Monkey. Bunny. Sweet Pea. Ding bat. Bean. Mush. Slinky.
I’m convinced that our fur friends live simply to give and receive love, and something so pure can only redeem us. Writer Steven Rowley must feel the same because even in his grief, Ted finds Lily has given him the great gift of beginning again.
Lily and the Octopus is not easy to read, but it is a poignant reminder that the lasts in our lives are every bit as precious as our firsts.
* My post title is a reference to that somewhat sentimental poem our vet sends her patients when we lose a pet. I am convinced, sentimental or not, it tells the Truth with a capital “T”.