Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lily and the Octopus (Steven Rowley)

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of PiLily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart. (source)

This is one of those books I would have never read if I wasn't in a book club. I've kept going to the book club at Indigo/Chapters I might have picked it up and started it since it has so many great reviews, but I doubt I would have kept going once I got into it. I wasn't quite sure what to think of it actually. It's not that bad, but then again, it's kind of 'meh'. Apparently, some were very impressed by the idea. I read that he was given an advance of almost a million dollars prior to it being published. Really?!

I was holding the book when I was at the cash register today to buy the next book club book and the cashier said, "Oh I love that book. Doesn't it just make you cry and cry?" I guess I'm hard-hearted. I didn't cry - although I did think the section where he chronologued taking the dog to be put down was really well written. The part where he is on a ship and fighting the octopus - well, that was just weird. Not sure what role that really played.

p. 219 (speaking to Lily): "Dogs are always good and full of selfless love. They are undiluted vessels of joy who never, ever deserve anything bad that happens to them. Especially you. Since the day I met you, you have done nothing but make my life better in every possible way. Do you understand?"

I'm not quite sure if the main character in this book was crazy, high or maybe he had a brain tumor himself?? I kept thinking there must be some kind of symbolism or higher meaning in the story. I couldn't find it. Then again, I can't often find those things. No one else in the book club could come up with any kind of deeper meaning either.

I liked the relationship focus and it does make me look at my dog with a little more respect and wonder - but that's about it. Sometimes though, I felt like the main character didn't resolve things in his real life because he put so much focus on his relationship with his dog. It was a kind of escapism.

The back cover says: Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

I'm not so sure.

I did think his analogy of a tumor being like an octopus was pretty well thought out and fit well for a tumor - or even cancer. The author nailed that.

    I chose an octopus because they are smart, wily, and slimy. They can learn, adapt, and even (according to numerous scientists) play. I needed a foe that would needle Ted, toy with him, study his weaknesses, and adjust, just as cancer mutates in the body. It helped the story that they are in many ways the physical opposite of dogs, especially dachshunds. A hairless invertebrate that lives in the sea is nothing like a furry dog that is all spine and lives on the land. I did an incredible amount of research on octopuses, and gave each of the book’s eight sections an octopus theme. There are so many fascinating facts about them it’s hard to pick a favorite; in writing the book it was hard to shake their having three hearts. Once I learned that piece of trivia, I knew the entire book would be driving toward that end.

    While the octopus as villain fit the needs of this story, I want to be clear that they are magnificent creatures and are in no way inherently evil. I am quite in awe of them, really!  
Although, I have to say, when he got an octopus tattoo, again, I was grasping for something deeper and more meaningful. It didn't come.

p. 195 I rolled up the sleeve to slowly reveal my tattoo. Eight octopus arms hang from my bicep, and I can feel the octopus's eyes grow bigger. I pull up my shirt even farther, revealing Kal's work from the bottom up in dramatic fashion. Finally, my shirt sleeve is up near my shoulder and my entire tattoo is revealed: a dachshund standing triumphantly on the head of an octopus.

Goodreads summary:

This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog.

Favorite quotes:
P. 81 The ceremony is perfect for my sister and her new husband - all business, no flourish. Nothing about the bride as property. 
(I hadn't thought about all the nuances in a wedding that insinuate that the bride is property)

In the story, his sister gets married - elopes. Only she invites him and his boyfriend and the groom's parents. I wondered why her parents weren't invited. There's something about their relationships with their mother especially that isn't really fleshed out in the story
p. 82 My mother is on the phone last. She's on the verge of tears, I can hear it in her voice. She would have liked to have been here. I think she's especially hurt that Franklin's parents were in attendance. She doesn't see my having been the ambassador for our family as adequate balance. And she's right. There is no one equal to a mother.

There's some interesting symbolism:
p. 82 After the calls I snap a few more pictures of the newlyweds in front of their enormous window. The top floor has a stunning vista of the city and the bay, and I frame them with Alcatraz far in the distance, just over my sister's shoulder. This is my silent statement about marriage.

Some words of wisdom on relationships:
p. 85 "Lily will be fine. It's you I'm worried about." Meredith puts a hand on my shoulder, but I don't say anything in response. "Don't use Lily as an excuse to ignore your own happiness."...."You have to communicate your needs to get them met. That's all I'm saying."

p. 90 Her floppy ears bound upward with each gallop, sometimes floating there in the window as if someone has put them on pause. When she comes back to me I know they will be flipped backward, pinned to her head and the back of her neck. I spend half my life restoring that dog's ears to their factory setting.

More words of wisdom on attachments to animals being legit:
p. 122 "But most of all, I'm thankful for Lily, who, since she entered my life, has taught me everything I know about patience and kindness and meeting adversity with quiet dignity and grace. No one makes me laugh harder, or want to hug them tighter. You have truly lived up to the promise of man's best friend."