Open Me by Lisa Locascio
Open Me begins with Roxana, our narrator, landing in Denmark for a study abroad program. She is late and there are no rooms left for her. In fact, she was never supposed to be there at all—the plan was to have the summer of a lifetime with her best friend Sylvie in Paris before they began their lives in college, but, due to an administrative error, Sylvie got into the program and Roxana was reassigned to Denmark.
This kind of error is typical for Roxana, especially in relation to Sylvie, whose beauty, wealth, and ease with herself has cast Roxana’s life in dull shadow. In the first few pages, we’re introduced to the low self-hating buzz that lived in her ear.
“I caught my reflection in the window. Shiny face, oily hair with ideas of its own, my whole head overcompensating for nine hours of dry canned air. My thighs spread across the seat like squashed dough.”
Squashed dough. Youch! What’s wonderful about this book is that though we are introduced in subtle ways to the inadequacies of Roxana’s 18-year-old American life—her average looks, her parents’ divorce, her rejection by all the girls at school, save Sylvie—these unpleasantries are swiftly swept away in a torrent of lust and passion with the quick introduction of Soren, a 30-year-old graduate student whose tall sullenness reeks of unbridled genius on the edge of a breakthrough (or nervous wreck on the edge of a breakdown). After he greets her as her liason to the program, the two grab a fretful beer before pretense fails and they begin a torrid affair. They ditch the program and abscond to his uncle’s vacant apartment in the small Dutch town of Farso, where the title of the book begins to fill out its meaning, if ya catch my drift. Still, the question lingers: Was this burst of uncareful lust driven by Roxana’s lack of self worth and desire to burn down the life she’s previously lived, or can desire, if allowed to flourish, take on a life and power of its own?
Certainly, Roxana’s dissatisfaction leads her to risky behavior. The women in the audience will take special note of Soren’s, ahem, red flags from pretty much the first words out of his mouth.
“‘You are at university?’
‘No. But I will be. In the fall.’
He narrowed his eyes for a moment and then relaxed them. ‘You mean autumn,’ he said, like there was a difference.”
Girl! This man is gaslighting you from the start! He’s 30! You are in a foreign land where you know no one and he holds all the literal keys! Don’t open the door, don’t look behind the curtain, don’t go with him to Farso!!! Luckily, she ignores the screams of warning from the audience and gives herself, blissfully, to the experience of being a stranger in more than one strange land.
Lisa Locasio so smartly depicts the gnarled weave of good/bad that often accompany a woman’s first steps as a sexual being. She stares straight at the politics of it all, while not allowing them to blot out Roxana’s multilayered awakening. Throughout its complications, the story remains wholly Roxana’s—and in that, it’s a hot, humid, glorious late-summer wonder.