Review by Tess Tabak
When a mixup sends Roxana, an 18-year-old girl, to Copenhagen, a mysterious Danish man named Soren whisks her away to live out one of his sexual fantasies.
I’m not quite sure I’d describe Open Me as an erotic novel, even though it’s marketed as such. It contains elements of that genre – the story exists in somewhat of a fantasy state. Through a series of odd circumstances, our heroine is trapped in another country, completely alone, at the mercy of an attractive stranger. But I’m hesitant to label this book erotica. There is a strong sense of the body in this book, but actually very little sex. It dwells more on the protagonist, Roxana, and her growing understanding of what it means to be a woman. She feels a strong desire at the start of the book to be acted upon, to be a completely passive participant in lovemaking. By the end, she learns that passivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Erotica or not, Open Me is a gorgeously written book. The author, Lisa Locascio, takes impossible-to-describe feelings and puts words to them. Roxana talks about her “cathedral feeling,” the private thrill she felt when hearing music played on a church organ for the first time. The author has an intimate understanding of the inner workings of young girls, and the loneliness of not being able to share those special feelings. When Roxana tries to tell her best friend about the cathedral feeling, a sarcastic comment bursts the bubble. “And again I was a bag of feelings with no start and no end, a tunnel through which sensation moved.”
At times, Roxana feels somewhat too canny for her age (18), but I don’t mind. She’s caught in between the naivety of youth, and the precipice of adulthood, where she perhaps thinks she knows more than she does. There’s a recurring theme in the book that she wants to be “opened,” to be known completely by her romantic partner. When a stranger offers her a chance to live in his apartment, she leaps at the chance. The relationship has a fairly creepy overtone. However, the author knows what she’s doing, and takes the book to a very smart place. Once Roxana is alone with Soren, she realizes that he’s not that interested in knowing her, and that she actually knows very little about him. This is exactly the kind of mistake it’s believable for an 18-year-old to make. Through Roxana’s guilelessness, Locascio recreates the feeling of finding yourself trapped in an abusive relationship. After several weeks, Soren becomes moody, withdrawn and depressed. The warning signs were there at the beginning, but Roxana, sure of herself, chooses to ignore them at her peril. Just when you think you know where the book is heading, it swerves.
There’s also a conversation in this book about refugees – one of Soren’s more unpleasant qualities is his xenophobia. Again, the back of the book bills this as a political novel, and I’m not quite sure the description fits. The conversation is there, but the author’s focus is more on the people involved – their sense of ethics, the ways in which they are misguided. On the other hand, the lessons Roxana learns – how to think critically, and make decisions for herself – are sorely needed in today’s politics, which have grown profoundly unethical. Open Me is a perfect beach read: deeper and darker than your average chicklit/erotic novel, but still gripping and light enough that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll breeze through it.
Open Me was released August 7, 2018 from Grove Atlantic Press.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.