When my husband and I married in 1964, one of the first things we did was buy a dog. Not just ANY dog, but a dachshund. Originally, we had yearned for a basset hound, but the couple next door to us in our first apartment had one, and his feet were bigger than mine. So . . . we scaled down to dachshunds. For the last 52 years, there has been one (or two) in residence, living long, pampered lives and having peaceful endings at 15 or 16 years of age. My current companion, Lola, is a rescue dog, and, as I am now widowed, is much company for me and my now single life. Just the right size to cuddle on the sofa and to keep my feet warm at night!
Giving you this background is necessary, considering the subject matter of the book I want to tell you about. When an advanced readers copy Lily and the Octopus arrived at the bookstore where I work, I was the natural choice to read and comment. It is a novel, thinly disguising the true-life story author Steven Rowley experienced with his own much loved dog, also named Lily.
Rowley started writing the piece thinking it would be a good short story, and then showed it to his companion, who told him to keep writing. He’d never written a novel, and although he was very proud of it, had no idea how to go about the exhausting prospect of actually publishing He began to think maybe self-publishing was a possibility when a freelance editor friend, Molly Pisani, read it and was entranced. She sent it to a former co-worker, Karen Marcus of Simon and Schuster publishing, who then forwarded it to Editor-in-Chief Marysue Rucci. Rucci was awakened at 3 am by an email from Marcus saying: “. . . this book is incredible. I wept real tears; you must buy it!” Typically, the publishing industry does not move so quickly on reading and approving projects for future use, but within two days of the email above, Rowley had a nearly one million dollar deal. Unheard of. Rucci said: “We knew immediately it was going to be a big book for us, and the advance certainly reflected that.”
There is a wonderful youtube link in which Steven Rowley describes how he had always wanted a dachshund, and, on the last day of his twenties, he made the huge decision to purchase one. At the breeder’s, he had puppies milling around, all wanting his attention, and he wondered how in the world he would be able to choose. And then, he looked down, and one little puppy was slowly but surely untying his shoelace with her tiny teeth. His decision was made, and he cried as he gently picked her up and gave her her first welcoming hug.
As to the story, as I mentioned before, this is a fictionalized version of Rowley and his dachshund, Lily—in the book, Lily and Ted Flask. Ted and Lily have a set schedule each week–Thursday nights they talk about cute boys; Friday nights they play Monopoly; Sunday nights they eat pizza. They talk to each other, of course, and Lily’s “talk” always come out in a series of exclamation accented words, for example:
“ WHAT! IS! THIS! CLOUD! THAT! YOU’RE! LICKING! I! LOVE! TO! LICK! THINGS! WOULD! I! LIKE! TO! LICK! THAT!”
Ted and Lily lived together for 12 ½ happy years, until one day he notices a tumor on Lily’s head that he calls the octopus. Once he sees the octopus, he has a difficult time ignoring it. Ted asks her about the octopus:
“Does it hurt?”
I don’t want to downplay the sadness of this story—it is sad. But it is also a celebration of one man’s total love and devotion for one little sweet dachshund. All pet owners know down deep that they are going to outlive their beloved little animal, but we continue to acquire them to augment and complete our lives—giving us the judgment free, unending love that keeps us going from day to day. In order to love an animal, you must also be willing to endure the unthinkable— letting them go when they are sick, injured, or just too old to enjoy a quality of life we would want for them. Grieving is a necessary part of the process. As I was reading the final part of the book, as (spoiler alert!) Ted takes Lily to the vet to be euthanized, I was suddenly aware that I was unashamedly weeping and thought of a part of the story when Ted is crying, and Lily says:
“THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE!”
It made me wipe away the tears and smile: now that Rowley has written this poignant, lovely story of Lily, we will have her with us always.
And, so, Dear Reader, have you had a Lily in your life? Please share your story.