A lonely writer and his aging dachshund confront a mythic enemy.
If it wasn’t for one thing, Rowley’s debut novel might be viewed as a lightly fictionalized, heart-wrenching account of the author’s last six months with his adored 12-year-old dog, Lily, who succumbed to a brain tumor. That one thing, however, is pretty big. It’s the “octopus” of the title. “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.…We get into long debates over the Ryans. I’m a Gosling man, whereas she’s a Reynolds gal.” The thing Ted notices that fateful Thursday is an octopus. It “has a good grip and clings tightly over her eye.” For almost all of this novel that thing over Lily’s eye remains an “octopus,” an evil eight-legged sea creature that snarks and schemes and wages battle. Even Ted’s best friend and therapist give in and call it an octopus, and a good deal of plot is built around pretending that it is, in an elaborately developed, magical realist way. This is not the best thing about the book. In fact, it becomes a little much. But more than balancing it are the portrait of Lily in all her bedclothes-burrowing, ice cream–eating, stubborn dachshund glory and the intensity of this particular interspecies bond. The octopus talks to Ted, but Lily does too, for example when she’s licking tears off his face: “THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE! YOU! SHOULD! MAKE! THIS! EVERY! DAY!” As anyone who has a dachshund knows, this is exactly how they talk. If you have an older dog, or any dog, he or she is going to be licking plenty of eye rain off your face through the final chapters of this book.
In his funny, ardent, and staunchly kooky way, Rowley expresses exactly what it’s like to love a dog.