This is my symphony

What I read & what I lived …

Lily and the Octopus (NetGalley)
Steven Rowley
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 lily and the octopusyour 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”.

6 thoughts on “Just this side of heaven*: Lily and the Octopus (review)

  1. denice says:

    I’ll have to live through you on this one. I can’t do dogs dying.


    1. Laurie says:

      I know 🙂 I thought about not reading it since Trix just died a year ago. Did you read Old Yeller when you were young? How about The Yearling? (That one just about killed me when I read it in 5th grade.)


  2. Vicki says:

    Such a sad read. I lost my babydog Patches last September, and the pain is still very real. That dog loved me for 18 years, and I loved her just as much. I can’t wait to see her again.

    I’ve rescued a puppy mill survivor since, and we’re helping each other heal.


    1. Laurie says:

      Totally know the place you’re coming from, Vicki. Our Trixie was a 14-year-old lab and we said goodbye just last July. Every once in a while, I’ll get that picture from Rainbow Bridge of her running up to meet me, ears flapping and eyes bright again. It makes my heart ache all over again. Trixie’s side kick was a beagle mix we rescued and he’s still with us. You’re right–they help us heal 🙂


  3. Nikki says:

    Great review!! I think i would have stopped reading once I knew. ❤


    1. Laurie says:

      I thought about it, Nikki, believe me! Especially since my husband and I had to say goodbye to our 14-year-old lab just last July. But there was something cathartic about reading Ted’s thoughts and emotions which were so similar to my own …


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