Forty-two-year-old Ted Flask is in love with his faithful companion--a 12-year-old dachshund named Lily. It is Thursday night. “Lily and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.” (p.3) Suddenly, Ted notices an “octopus” growing on Lily’s head. The tumor/octopus slowly transforms Lily’s body. When she starts to suffer from seizures, Ted takes her to a veterinarian who tells him that Lily does not have long to live. This realization shakes Ted’s life to its very core. How will he survive without his dearest companion? How will he go on living without Lily?
What follows is a lengthy conversation between Lily and Ted as the inevitable day of Lily’s death approaches. Ted seeks the comfort of his limited circle of friends and family. However, he soon realizes that he must cope with his loss and grief on his own. Ted struggles with his bruised self-concept in conversations with his therapist Jenny as he prepares to lose his best friend, Lily. He is a writer who cannot write. He does not have a relationship with anyone at present, and his dating life is sporadic at best. He lives an isolated existence which threatens to descend into despair with Lily’s looming death. “The Octopus” becomes a symbol of everything that is wrong with his life. Will the octopus triumph, or will Ted learn to live with it?
The narrative structure will definitely appeal to dog lovers. Ted and Lily have frequent conversations. Lily “speaks” to Ted in conversation and in her barking voice, “THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC!” (p. 22) Rowley’s novel is full of references to media and pop culture. On the very first page, Ted and Lily discuss the attraction of current movie stars such as Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. There are also references to
Sesame Street, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and The Seven Year Itch, as well as echoes of novels such as
Peter Pan, Life of Pi, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,
Moby Dick and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.
Lily and the Octopus is Steven Rowley’s first novel. Rowley was a struggling screenwriter paying the bills by working as a paralegal in Los Angeles when his beloved dachshund, Lily, died. Six months later, he sat down to write down his memories of Lily. These musings became the basis for a short story named
"The Octopus." His boyfriend encouraged him to keep writing the story, which became the novel Lily and the Octopus. Rejected by 30 literary agents, Rowley decided to self-publish. However, his freelance editor submitted the novel to Simon
and Schuster, which offered Rowley a surprising and lucrative publishing contract. Readers will definitely be able to relate to the universal themes of love, loss and forgiveness. “Death is the awfully big adventure. But not this time… The greatest adventure, our adventure, is the fight to live.” (p. 188)