And here is where I know that I read some really good books in 2016. Both of these books should be much closer to the #1 slot in a normal year. From here on up, these books all thrilled me in some way or another. It’s great to finish a book that really satisfies you, and these certainly fit the bill.
A new Margot Livesey novel is always something to look forward to. Her thoughtful and incisive writing tantalizes and my literary mind every time With Mercury, Margot Livesey tackles obsession and how it can have catastrophic effects on a family. Donald is an optometrist living in suburban Boston after a childhood spent in Scotland. After a particularly difficult illness, Donald’s father dies, and Donald finds himself a little adrift. His wife, Viv, has found renewed passion in the form of a horse named Mercury, who is stabled at the ranch where she works. Gradually, Viv begins devoting more and more of her time on Mercury, to the point that Donald believes she is keeping things from him, and putting her family second to the need of the horse.
When Viv and Donald’s actions, or sometimes lack of actions, lead to an unimaginable accident, both must confront the realities of their behavior and how many other must suffer the consequences. Livesey doesn’t make it easy for any of her characters, and the outcomes do not fall in the happy-ever-after category, but she creates compelling, believable characters and weaves stories that are compelling and urgent. Mercury is a novel that has lasting impact.
When it comes to imaginative, creative, funny, emotional debut novels, Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus definitely tops the list. While coming in at #6 overall, it’s my top debut novel of the year, and I so thoroughly enjoyed it. Reading Lily you can so clearly see the love and care that so infuses the writing that we can’t help but fall in love with Lily as well.
Anyone who has lost a pet knows how that pain of that loss defies explanation. Of course there is sadness and grief, but there’s also that niggling, irrational sense that other people don’t take it seriously, after all, it’s only a pet. After his own dog died, Hollywood screenwriter Steven Rowley decided to write a short story about the experience to help cope with his own grief. That short story turned into Lily and the Octopus a novel of great emotional impact that truly had me laughing out loud on one page, and weeping on the next.
Ted is a writer living in L.A., who noticed one morning that there is an octopus perched on the head of his beloved dachshund, Lily. He’s not sure where it came from, but he’s certain it’s not a good thing. What follows is a man’s journey through denial to realization and how his reactions to his Lily’s impending fate may have more to do with his own life than hers.
Rowley is a good writer: his humor unexpected and quirky, his moving passages authentic and without overblown pathos. There is a slight edge of that entertainment-business cynic present, but it’s offset by Ted’s inherent geekiness. The narrative uses magical realism beautifully, giving both Lily and the octopus unique, satisfying voices, and sending Ted and Lily on a daring sea adventure the likes of which ballads were written.
I also appreciated how Ted’s emotional roller coaster was so much different than my own, when my beloved, 22-year-old cat passed away nearly a year ago. Rowley explores not just the sadness of loss we feel, but how our emotional state and view of life shape that grief. It’s a beautiful and highly entertaining book, and my heart is warming up just writing about it.