A heartwarming story for the winter
Some novels are simply read and tossed aside without so much as a second thought. Other truly special novels stick with you for months or even years afterward, having changed the way you thought about life and (puppy) love forever.
One of these magical novels that I read over the summer of 2016, and haven’t stopped thinking about since, is “Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley. I was originally drawn to this book because of its distinctive title and cover art of an ethereal Dachshund against a cerulean background, but I stayed for the bittersweet humor and the character of Lily herself.
Lily is an aging Dachshund with a zest for life and a passionate love for her owner, a lonely writer named Ted. As an adamant dog lover myself, I was excited to add this book to my dog-related novel collection, which includes powerful works such as Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” From the first scene, in which Ted notices that something is wrong with his dear Lily as they are discussing men whom they think are cute; I was hooked.
As you can tell, Ted doesn’t have the average dog and owner relationship with Lily. Throughout the novel, Lily talks to Ted, sometimes in perfectly clear English and other times in excited bursts.
The reader is left to wonder whether Lily actually communicates with Ted or whether he is simply imagining the discussions to cope with loneliness. Regardless, the inspiring love shared by the man and dog is painted beautifully through scenes and background stories.
Unfortunately, there is a third character that threatens both their relationship and Lily’s life. It is the second title character, “the Octopus,” that has perched itself on Lily’s head and has a tight grasp on her brain. This octopus communicates with Ted like Lily does, but the octopus is by no means a friend nor the typical sea creature one might envision.
The octopus is actually a cancerous tumor threatening his 12-year-old Dachshund’s life. Anyone who has witnessed a pet, or any loved one, go through a life-threatening illness could imagine why Ted might create an imaginary foe because it made the situation easier for him to grasp, no matter how outlandish it may seem at first.
Ted’s shock at the decline of Lily’s health is understandable, as his life essentially revolves around their relationship. On Thursdays they discuss cute boys, on Fridays they play Monopoly, and on Sundays they eat pizza. Ted did have a shaky human relationship in the past that is subtly alluded to throughout the novel, and the aftermath has kept him from reentering the dating scene.
As Ted comes to terms with Lily’s condition and the possible loss of his companion, he realizes that his intense love for his dog has kept him from delving into the other important aspects of his life. As Ted wages a heartbreaking war with the octopus, he learns a lot about himself in the process and essentially grows as a person.
“Lily and the Octopus” was Rowley’s debut novel, and hit the shelves in June, 2016. Rowley, a screenwriter and paralegal, originally wrote a short story about the death of his own Dachshund, Lily, in order to cope with his sorrow. With the encouragement of his boyfriend, Rowley expanded the short story into the more-than-300 page novel in only 100 days.
Whether you’re a dog lover or simply a bookworm, you’ll fall in love with this heart-wrenching, bittersweet story of love, magic, and an adorable Dachshund named Lily. Make sure to pack the tissues for this one, though. If you’re like me and have ever loved a dog to the end of his or her life, you’ll have cried monsoons by the time the novel ends.