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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"Come a bit closer for me," says the old man, gently. "A bit closer to the grave."
It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, and yet Open Me, a poetic and disquieting debut novel, turns that old saw on its head. O'Donnell's novel offers a glimpse into an ancient and secret society of wailing women (professional mourners), fully imagined. This illegal, Gypsy-like calling has been passed down through generations from mother to daughter, complete with the emotionally abusive techniques and rituals used to train "Wailers" in the art of weeping. It is a shadow profession that operates out of the reach of authorities who object to the dark practice as abusive and morally abhorrent. The young girls, for example, are routinely threatened with abandonment if they're unable to perform by age seven.
Mem, O'Donnell's protagonist, is the daughter of a master Wailer. As a small girl, she struggles with her vocation but soon becomes the best her profession has ever seen -- a young girl whose tears touch the very souls of those who bear witness to them. But at what cost to Mem? Rich in metaphor about relationships -- that of mothers and daughters, of life and death, of love and longing -- Open Me peels back in layers, like an onion. What it reveals is both horrifying and beautiful at the same time. (Fall 2007 Selection)