Immediately after diving into the first few pages, I realized that my introduction to this novel, as a solo traveler basking in introvert bliss at a local Boston-area bookstore, was really quite on par with Ted, the quirky and isolated protagonist in Lily and the Octopus. This book was another blind date purchase– a kooky marketing scheme that I totally fall for every time (I’m a big risk-taker… when it comes to books)– and it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. The cover of the book had an adorable illustration of a dog and within the first paragraph, the dog starts speaking. Already, I’m sold. The only issue I could foresee is that usually when movies, books or television shows feature a beloved animal, we can only expect that the whimsical cuteness will eventually take a rather sad turn. Nevertheless, I could NOT put this book down. My heart dangling by a thread, I had become sucked in and emotionally invested just like the author, Steven Rowley, wanted– desperate at every page turn to find out what would happen next in Lily’s (the sassy dachshund) journey.
My reaction to this book in three emojis:
Beloved Emoji: This is an obvious one– I call this the beloved emoji because I use it when I want to communicate that I’ve got the warm fuzzies. There is nothing on this earth that consistently lives up that definition than the love of a dear pet. Ted’s relationship with Lily is so precious and the pure. The uncomplicated companionship that Rowley describes is spot on to the feelings I’ve felt for my family pets growing up and especially for my dog, Alice– the only living creature who’s wellbeing I have had sole responsibility for. Having recently rescued Alice from the local animal shelter not six months ago and becoming a first-time dog mom, my sensitivities were high as I read sections where Ted details the day he brought Lily home. He tells Lily that he didn’t choose her, she chose him. Call me cheesy, but I so identify with that statement. Alice was the last dog I met at the animal shelter and immediately I knew she was mine. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. If you are an animal lover yourself, you’ll thoroughly appreciate the way Rowley beautifully crafts language around the indescribable sensation of loving your best friend.
Fairy Emoji: Okay, so this might seem a little out of left field, but let me explain… the fairy emoji represents whimsy and the genre of this novel which is (my favorite) magical realism. Magical because Lily, the dog, spends most of the book talking up a storm, triumphantly beating her owner at monopoly, gossiping about cute celebrities, and justifying the indulgence of pepperoni pizza. And then there’s one other small bit of “magic” or improbability– Lily may or may not have a sinister, potty-mouthed octopus attached to her head. The realism part is obvious– while these seemingly impossible scenarios are playing out, we completely accept it and welcome it as truth right along with the narrator. What I love about this genre –and especially Rowley’s masterful work within this framework– is that as the reader, we get to giggle and muse at the quirkiness, but the imaginary is always reeled in enough for hard-hitting, emotional conflicts to actually have impact.
Conjoined Hearts Emoji: I don’t use this emoji often, but I felt it was quite relevant in this moment to illustrate Lily and the Octopus’s theme of connectedness. Lily and Ted are connected in a dog/owner/best friend relationship. They are also connected in spirit because Lily’s unconditional love will impact Ted for the rest of his life, even when he eventually outlives her, just like so many other pet owners will naturally surpass their fur babies. Beyond that, I saw connectedness between Ted and his family, Ted and his ex, Ted and his friends, as well as with his therapist and potential new romances that entered his life. I love that Lily and the Octopus reminds us that no matter how a relationship ended or what form the relationship took on, the connection we do share or once shared with that person (or furry friend) was purposeful. Witnessing Ted’s transformation with every page turn was fascinating. As he begins to unravel the connections he has with those around him, he becomes more at peace with himself and better able to stand on his own two feet– free of codependency.
My Favorite Moment:
The very beginning of the book describes Lily and Ted’s weekly schedule. They have specific days for ordering pizza, watching movies, playing board games and have even carved out time to categorically discuss the hotness of male celebrities. They have inside jokes, shared memories and mundane routines that are joyously familiar and cherished. When I read this, it struck a cord with me as a single woman who lives alone with her dog. My day-to-day mostly just involves Alice and myself. Alice and I binging Downton Abbey, Alice and I going for walks, Alice and I taking a nap on the couch, etc. It might sound slightly lonely, and sometimes it is, but for now at least, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My Favorite Quote:
… I think of how dogs are witnesses. How they are present for our most private moments, how they are there when we think of ourselves as alone. They witness our quarrels, our tears, our struggles, our fears, and all of our secret behaviors that we have to hide from our fellow humans. They witness without judgment.
Halo Top Pairing…