Lily and the Octopus
Looking for a good summer read?
I posted a picture of Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley on my Instagram account last week and promised a review.
I don’t get much time to read — I thought it might take me a week to get through. The advance copy arrived right before I hopped a plane to St. Louis for a weekend of work. I shoved the book in my carry on as an afterthought. By the time my flight touched down in St. Louis, I had read 130+ pages already. It was a good book. I could tell that I was going to ugly-cry (I had already teared up a few times on the flight, but I DO have a senior Lily myself, so…), but I also laughed loudly enough for other passengers on the plane to give me the side eye.
By the time I got my rental car, did my errands before class the next morning, ate my dinner and got back to the hotel room totally ready to crash into bed. I planned to read another chapter to wind down from the rigors of traveling. Two hours later — way past my bedtime — I was indeed crying my way through the end of the book.
Lily and the Octopus is a story with which dog lovers will immediately identify. You’ll find yourself right there on the page. Your dog probably speaks just like Lily:
“THE! SAND! IS! SO! SQUISHY! UNDER! MY! PAWS! AND! LOOK! HOW! VAST! THE! OCEAN! WATCH! ME! RUN! WITHOUT! MY! LEA —“
Before she can say leash, a wave sweeps in and engulfs her delicate paws in a strand of slick seaweed and a look of terror washes over her face.
“SERPENT! SERPENT! SERPENT!” [p. 90]
I’m not giving anything away by telling you that the octopus in this story is a brain tumor. You find that out on page 8. The adventure that Lily and Ted embark on in an effort to kill the insidious octopus is a great one. I could have easily skipped The Pelagic Zone section of the book (pages 201 – 245) as it got a little too fantastical and outlandish for me. I can accept that the dog can talk (because come on, who doesn’t carry on conversations with their dog?), but the epic odyssey that Ted and Lily went on in that section took the whole thing a little too far. But maybe it’s just me. Read it and let me know what you think.
In the end, skipping that section will only get you to the inevitable. I strongly urge you to read that part in the privacy of your home. Don’t read it if you’re on public transportation. Don’t finish the book on your lunch hour. Just don’t. You’ll thank me for it when you can breathe again and when you’re not dripping snot from your nose. Tissues. You’ll need tissues. This part of the book is a candidly accurate description of the loss of a friend of a lifetime. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s peaceful, it’s horrible, it’s exactly what you’d think it’d be.
However, do not — DO NOT — consider NOT finishing the book. You must the read Three Hearts section. This is where Rowley earns his redemption from dragging our hearts through hell. Ah, I just teared up (the good kind of tears, though, I swear) as I was reading that last piece of the book just now, looking for a quote. I have to stop reading it if I’m ever going to get this published. I want to read it all again. The whole thing (well, save for The Pelagic Zone section I just told you about).
Plus, there’s a lot (LOT) of really funny bits. The laugh-out-loud parts that had the other airline passengers giving me the side-eye, trying to get a peek of what was making me laugh so genuinely.
Here’s a little something from the author himself that I found particularly interesting:
Q: The relationship between Ted and Lily is affectionate, and it’s clear that your own connection with (the real life) Lily was powerful. What was it like to write about her? How did you find her voice?
Steven Rowley: “Throughout the book, Lily speaks in two unique ways. Sometimes in SHARP! STACATTO! NOTES! This is meant to be as close to a literal translation of her barking as possible. She also speaks conversationally, and these are imagined talks she has with Ted. I think this rings true with a lot of pet owners. As much as you might be convinced at the outset that you’re not that kind of person — sooner or later you start having conversations with your animals. And it’s inevitable that they start talking back.
Pets lead dual lives: one as the animal they are born, and a second as the anthropomorphized creature we create. Somewhere at the intersection of those two lives exists a bit of enchantment, some kind of magical truth; writing about Lily actually taught me some things about her (and some things about me) that I don’t think I ever knew. It was enlightening.”
This book is about a man struggling with loneliness, heartbreak, and challenging relationships. His name is Ted, but he could be any of us. With his dog, he finds courage he never knew he had, had fun he never knew was possible, and realizes he’ll never really ever be without his Lily.
So yes, go get this book. It’s officially available on June 7 (you can pre-order at most bookstores). Go to your local bookseller or buy it online. You won’t be sad you did. (Well, you’ll be a little sad for a little while. But I promise there’s redemption when you get to the end. It’ll make you feel good, I swear.)