Excerpt provided by Syndetics
<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Lily and the Octopus It's Thursday the first time I see it. I know that it's Thursday because Thursday nights are the nights my dog, Lily, and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute. She's twelve in actual years, which is eighty-four in dog years. I'm forty-two, which is two hundred and ninety-four in dog years--but like a really young two hundred and ninety-four, because I'm in pretty good shape and a lot of people tell me I could pass for two hundred and thirty-eight, which is actually thirty-four. I say this about our ages because we're both a little immature and tend to like younger guys. We get into long debates over the Ryans. I'm a Gosling man, whereas she's a Reynolds gal, even though she can't name a single movie of his that she would ever watch twice. (We dropped Phillipe years ago over a disagreement as to how to pronounce his name. FILL-a-pea? Fill-AH-pay? Also because he doesn't work that much anymore.) Then there's the Matts and the Toms. We go back and forth between Bomer and Damon and Brady and Hardy depending on what kind of week it has been. And finally the Bradleys, Cooper and Milton, the latter of whom is technically way older and long dead and I'm not sure why my dog keeps bringing him up other than she loves board games, which we usually play on Fridays. Anyhow, this particular Thursday we are discussing the Chrises: Hemsworth and Evans and Pine. It's when Lily suggests offhandedly we also include Chris Pratt that I notice the octopus. It's not often you see an octopus up close, let alone in your living room, let alone perched on your dog's head like a birthday party hat, so I'm immediately taken aback. I have a good view of it, as Lily and I are sitting on opposite sides of the couch, each with a pillow, me sitting Indian style, her perched more like the MGM lion. "Lily!" "We don't have to include Chris Pratt, it was just a suggestion," she says. "No--what's that on your head?" I ask. Two of the octopus's arms hang down her face like chin straps. "Where?" "What do you mean, where? There. Over your temple on the right side." Lily pauses. She looks at me for a moment, our eyes locked on each other. She breaks my gaze only to glance upward at the octopus. "Oh. That." "Yes, that." I immediately lean in and grab her snout, the way I used to when she was a pup and would bark too much, so excited by the very existence of each new thing encountered that she had to sing her enthusiasm with sharp, staccato notes: LOOK! AT! THIS! IT! IS! THE! MOST! AMAZING! THING! I'VE! EVER! SEEN! IT'S! A! GREAT! TIME! TO! BE! ALIVE! Once, when we first lived together, in the time it took me to shower she managed to relocate all of my size-thirteen shoes to the top of the staircase three rooms away. When I asked her why, her reply was pure conviction: THESE! THINGS! YOU! PUT! ON! FEET! SHOULD! BE! CLOSER! TO! THE! STAIRS! So full of ebullience and ideas. I pull her closer to me and turn her head to the side so I can get a good, long look. She gives me the most side-eye she can muster in annoyance, disgusted with both the molestation and unwanted attention, and my gaucheness as a big, stupid human man. The octopus has a good grip and clings tightly over her eye. It takes me a minute, but I gather my nerve and poke it. It's harder than I would have imagined. Less like a water balloon, more like . . . bone. It feels subcutaneous, yet there it is, out in the open for all to see. I count its arms, turning Lily's head around to the back, and sure enough, there are eight. The octopus looks angry as much as out of place. Aggressive perhaps is a better word. Like it is announcing itself and would like the room. I'm not going to lie. It's as frightening as it is confounding. I saw a video somewhere, sometime, of an octopus that camouflaged itself so perfectly along the ocean floor that it was completely undetectable until some unfortunate whelk or crab or snail came along and it emerged, striking with deadly precision. I remember going back and watching the video again and again, trying to locate the octopus in hiding. After countless viewings I could acknowledge its presence, sense its energy, its lurking, its intent to pounce, even if I couldn't entirely make it out in form. Once you had seen it, you couldn't really unsee it--even as you remained impressed with its ability to hide so perfectly in plain sight. This is like that. Now that I've seen it, I can't unsee it, and the octopus transforms Lily's entire face. A face that has always been so handsome to me, a noble and classic dog profile, betrayed only slightly by a dachshund's ridiculous body. Still, that face! Perfect in its symmetry. When you pulled her ears back it was like a small bowling pin covered in the softest mahogany fur. But now she looks less like a bowling pin in shape and more like a worn-down bowling pin in occupation; her head sports a lump as if it had actually been the number-one pin in a ten-pin formation. Lily snorts at me twice with flared nostrils and I realize I'm still holding her snout. I let go of her, knowing she is seething at the indignity of it all. "I don't want to talk about it," she says, tucking her head to gnaw at an itch on her stomach. "Well, I do want to talk about it." Mostly I want to talk about how it could be possible that I've never seen it before. How I could be responsible for every aspect of her daily life and well-being--food, water, exercise, toys, chews, inside, outside, medication, elimination, entertainment, snuggling, affection, love--and not notice that one side of her head sports an octopus, alarmingly increasing it in size. The octopus is a master of disguise, I remind myself; its intent is to stay hidden. But even as I say this silently in my head I wonder why I'm letting myself so easily off the hook. "Does it hurt?" There's a sigh. An exhale. When Lily was younger, in her sleep she would make a similar noise, usually right before her legs would start racing, the preamble to a beautiful dream about chasing squirrels or birds or pounding the warm sand on an endless golden beach. I don't know why, but I think of Ethan Hawke answering the standard questionnaire inspired by Bernard Pivot that ended every episode of Inside the Actors Studio: "What sound or noise do you love?" Puppies sighing, Ethan had said. Yes! Such a wonderful juxtaposition, sighing puppies. As if warm, sleeping puppies felt anything lamentable or had weariness or exasperations to sigh over. And yet they sighed all the time! Exhalations of sweet, innocent breath. But this sigh is different. Subtly. To the untrained ear it might not be noticeable, but I know Lily about as well as I think it's possible to know another living thing, so I notice it. There's a heaviness to it. A creakiness. There are cares in her world; there is weight on her shoulders. I ask her again. "Does it hurt?" Her answer comes slowly, after great pause and consideration. "Sometimes." The very best thing about dogs is how they just know when you need them most, and they'll drop everything that they're doing to sit with you awhile. I don't need to press Lily further. I can do what she has done for me countless times, through heartbreak and illness and depression and days of general uneasiness and malaise. I can sit with her quietly, our bodies touching just enough to generate warmth, to share the vibrating energy of all living things, until our breathing slows and falls into the parallel rhythm it always does when we have our quietest sits. I pinch the skin on the back of her neck as I imagine her mother once did to carry her when she was a pup. "There's a wind coming," I tell her. Staring down the octopus as much as I dare, I fear there's more truth to that statement than I'd like. Mostly I am setting Lily up to deliver her favorite line from Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Neither of us has actually seen the film, but they played this exchange endlessly in the commercials back when it was in theaters and we both would collapse in fits of laughter at the sound of Cate Blanchett bellowing and carrying on as the Virgin Queen. My dog does the best Cate Blanchett impression. Lily perks up just a bit and delivers her response on cue: "I, too, can command the wind, sir! I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me! Let them come with the armies of hell; they will not pass!" It's a good effort, one she makes for me. But if I'm being honest, it isn't her best. Instinctually she probably already knows what is fast becoming clear to me: she is the whelk; she is the crab; she is the snail. The octopus is hungry. And it is going to have her. Excerpted from Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon>
Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Screenwriter Rowley's poignant debut novel offers an anthropomorphic story that will be recognized by listeners who have faced a loved one's illness. Ted, lonely and single in Los Angeles, finds solace in his companion Lily, a dachshund. He raises her from a pup, and their lives are melded. Aging together, Lily and Ted chat, play Monopoly, and discuss cute boys. One day Ted notices something on Lily's head that resembles an octopus and wonders why he never noticed it before. Ted can't bring himself to say out loud the word tumor and calls the growth the Octopus-he even gets the vet to use the term. The Octopus, sarcastic and caustic, yet with a sly wit, won't leave. And thus begins a major battle that reaches epic proportions. Rowley captures with tenderness, humor, and creativity Ted's feeling of powerlessness, the nuances of his grief, and the fierceness people can summon when faced with an overwhelming foe. Michael Urie captures well Lily's manic yet innocent voice, as well as Ted's calmer tones and the Octopus's sly taunting. VERDICT Urie's skillful narration adds another dimension to this tale of loss of a beloved pet. Recommended. ["This funny and heartbreaking first novel will appeal to dog lovers": LJ 5/15/16 review of the S. & S. hc.]-Judy Murray, Monroe Cty. Lib. Syst., MI © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.