Review: Open Me

by Lisa Locascio (Grove Atlantic, 2018)

I first heard about this book-in-progress when Lisa Locascio came to teach at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference several years ago. I’m thrilled to now read this shimmering, character-driven debut, where Roxana, 18, arrives alone to Copenhagen because her summer study program in Paris was overbooked. Roxana meets Søren, 28, erstwhile leader of the study-abroad tour. Søren goes rogue and invites Roxana to stay with him in rural Jutland while he grapples with the next draft of his dissertation. This literary narrative, told from Roxana’s perfectly rendered point-of-view, explores a very interior rite of passage from innocence to experience.

Roxana is open to adventure, yet becomes trapped by disappointment—a stranger in a strange land, if you will. The sights and sounds of Denmark take a back seat to the main setting, an apartment’s interior. Roxana learns that Søren is angry, bitter, and racist. He is emotionally controlling and neglectful. “No two of his moods were alike. Each carried a million new tiny shades of self-loathing.” Yet, Roxana is enchanted by the sex and the idea of being in a relationship. She finds refuge in her imagination and mulls over her life so far and possible futures.

Open Me is likely to stir controversy with explicit details of female sexuality. Young people are fragile while also craving risk and experience. Roxana embodies these complexities. She’s aware of her female essence, awakening in a purely instinctual realm, exploring her raw, erotic hunger. Growing into womanhood brings both pleasure and pain. The author explores these emotional and physical nuances with both direct narrative and poetic finesse. Soon, the apartment is not enough, and Roxana yearns to evade Søren’s reach.

“I checked my return ticket. I had ten days left in Denmark. […] My whole world had slowed, become an orb of Juttish amber, the earwax-colored stuff all the design stores on Farsø’s main street pushed. Every conversation with Søren now held the same metamorphosing silence.[…] How could I go home in ten days? What story would I tell?”

Roxana roams the town and in particular a wild parkland where a handsome stranger, Geden, helps her when she stumbles. She’s drawn to Geden, who compares his occupation with that of Mellors; Roxana doesn’t get his reference to Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Geden’s true name is Zlatan; he is a Muslim immigrant from Sarajevo. Once Roxana crosses the threshold into his surprising and tender world, she discovers that she must, for now and always, define her own freedom.

“We headed into the forest, up a hill, to a thicket of tall trees, their tops so lush I felt like crying. Life, waving at me in the wind.

Hello, hello, goodbye, the trees said. We love you.

I love you too, I thought.”

Roxana learns to free herself with a lover, and more importantly, how to engage her own ambitions, power, and humanity.

Lisa Locascio joins a widening circle of women who write frankly and artfully about female sexual pleasure in the tradition of Marguerite Duras, Erica Jong, and Anaïs Nin. Recommended for women’s book groups or for anyone hungry for an immersive and sexually explicit coming-of-age novel. This review is based on an ARC from NetGalley.

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Karen Lewis