Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lily And The Octopus: About a Fiercely Loved Dachshund

This is a tough one — how do I, in good conscience, recommend this novel, Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley (out today!), which is about a dog with brain cancer? Especially considering that the dog is a dachshund. Especially considering my wife and I have two dachshunds. But I do — I recommend it wholeheartedly. Because as sad as it can be, it's also charming, and funny, and often surprisingly profound. It's a just good read that spans the emotional spectrum — and after all, that's what you want from fiction, isn't it? To feel?  I do, for sure.

Okay, so technically, telling you the dog has cancer is a bit of a spoiler — Lily is the dog, and the octopus is a metaphor for a brain tumor. But if you decide to read this, you learn this fact pretty quickly, and in my opinion, you deserve to know this going in. As well, if you've read anything about this book before diving in, you'll figure it out. And I'm sure glad I knew going in. The other piece of info worth knowing: This isn't complete fictional, which actually adds another layer of emotional depth to this story. The author Rowley also had a dachshund which also had brain cancer, and so this novel is part memoir, part catharsis.

So we go back and forth in time to when the narrator (a guy named Ted) adopted Lily, has relationship troubles with his boyfriend, suffers through Lily's back surgery (a common problem with the breed — luckily, neither of our dachshunds have had that issue yet), and tries to destroy the evil octopus that has perched itself on Lily's head.

The highlight of this novel is the narrator's voice — self-deprecating at times, defiant and fierce at times, vulnerable and sad at times, but always smart, interesting and fun to read. Of course, both Lily and the octopus talk, too. Talking animals are always a risky decision, but the whimsy with which this novel's written makes this feel perfectly apt — talking animals fit in fine.

One of the gauges, though it's almost a too-easy comparison, to whether or not you might like reading this is if you enjoyed Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved that novel, but like this one, it absolutely leveled me. I've had many conversations with dog lovers who could not read that one. So if that's you, this probably isn't the book for you, either. However, if you love dog books, and you love to put through an emotional wringer, this is DEFINITELY the book for you.

Yoshi and Baxter are new Steven Rowley fans


  1. I admit it, I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain. I knew the author was pulling the readers strings all the way through the book, but I loved it in spite of this. However, that may be all the dog novels I need for many, many years.

    I have a Bassett Hound which people always assume is a Beagle. People also assume that Bassetts are long dogs so they must have back issues. This is not true. Bassetts have short legs; their bodies are just about the same size as a Labrador. I've always suspected something similar was going on with Dachshounds.

  2. Hmm.. I actually wasn't really interested this one at all (to be fair, I didn't know a thing about the actual plot, and confess to not really being a dog person), but you've changed my mind. And I also realize that confessing I'm not a dog person makes me sound totally soulless, what with the brain cancer and all, but I swear that I do LIKE dogs, just don't have a desire to own them.

    1. I am with you on this, Beth. I have never owned a dog nor grew up with any pets but family has them.

  3. I was looking forward to reading this having read all the hype surrounding its release. While scanning the new book shelf at my local library THERE!IT!WAS!ALL!MINE!
    Well I finished it today and I really don't know which words to describe my feelings - FURIOUS?INSULTED? and what words to describe the author-FRAUD?PLAGARIST?LOWLIFE COPYCAT?
    Have you not read Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" and "Blue Nights"? Have you not read the Book of Pi?? Mr. Rowley's entire premise and plot is not just similar but, in fact, is almost word for word to several of the sections in "The Year of Magical Thinking". Even the boat's name "Fishful Thinking" is simply a play on her words. Didion published her works as Memoirs and Rowley calls his a novel so I guess he feels that justifies his actions. SHAME!SHAME!SHAME! as Lily might have said.

  4. Loved it. We recently lost our sweet boy, Cock -a-Poo . He had a huge benign lump hanging from his shoulder. He was 17 so surgery avoided. We had an amazing Veterinarian. The book showed this incredible unconditional love that can exist that I thought about throughout the story. An amazing deep love that I think exists in most people if you allow it.