Synopses & Reviews
A debut novel about a young girl at the center of the secret world of professional mourners, where women are trained extensively and paid handsomely to attend the funerals of strangers.
Mem is a wailer, a professional mourner hired to cry at funerals. One of the few remaining American girls in this secret, illegal profession, Mem hails from a long line of mourners, including her mother, a legendary master wailer hired for the most important funerals in her hometown of Philadelphia.
Though Mem is to eventually become a renowned wailer herself, she at first struggles with her calling. She is a girl who cannot make herself cry, and though her mother loves her fiercely, she must use ancient, emotionally abusive, cultlike rituals to train Mem to weep. When Mem emerges as the greatest wailer that the profession has ever seen, her infamy brings with it unwanted attention, especially from the authorities.
Interweaving poetic prose and artifacts spanning six thousand years and seven continents, Open Me is an utterly original novel about mothers and daughters, dark underworlds, and the play between fact and fiction.
"A trudging fascination with ancient rites hampers this disappointing debut novel about Mem, a professional girl mourner in contemporary Philadelphia paid top dollar to wail at local funerals. The women in Mem's family have been grieving for money since ancient Roman times, passing down to their daughters the art of crying on command. Though the profession is illegal, Mem's family persists with cultish zeal, with mothers training their children to cry by verbally assaulting them and threatening to abandon them. Mem distinguishes herself as a stunning wailer, and as her bookings increase, so does the level of interest from law enforcement. The necessity of the harsh training Mem receives is never questioned, nor is the demand for professional mourners in modern society made plausible. Though O'Donnell's prose is deft and accomplished, it suffers in service of an improbable premise that's short on plot and long on overstated themes of ritual, motherhood and feminine sexuality. Unfortunately, O'Donnell neither demystifies the past nor illuminates the peculiar present she's created." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"While O'Donnell writes that the hidden nature of the community makes full understanding impossible, this leaves readers in a quandary, intrigued but ultimately annoyed, that Mem and her people are so unknowable." Library Jounral
About the Author
An award-winning poet, essayist, and educator, Sunshine O'Donnell teaches experiential workshops in creative writing, visual art, and quantum physics to underserved children in poverty-stricken schools and youth residential facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Through "The Coffeehouse Project," a mobile-classroom program O'Donnell founded in 1994, she has published hundreds of literary magazines for underserved adolescents and abused and abandoned children. O'Donnell lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with her husband. Open Me is her first novel.