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ISBN: 978-1-62557-993-5

Oh My Darling

Publication Date: March 2015


“At the last dusty town in a line of dusty towns Clementine’s story begins. In Oh My Darling, Cate O’Toole has constructed a winding narrative with many pathways, each road following the fifteen year-old miner’s daughter, immortalized in the American folk canon by her namesake ballad, through a journey laced with triumph and ruin at every turn. As Clementine navigates the perils and risks of the old West-from her father’s land claim in the California goldfields to a San Francisco boarding house to the promise of the mountains, the plains, the river-you decide where the story will go. With O’Toole’s sharp, clever prose as your guide, your decisions steer Clementine’s fate. Gone but not forgotten, Clementine shines at the narrative’s core, fighting for her future, aching to be more than “a tangle of bones, a handful of dust scattered by the wind.”


Clementine’s feet harden. Soon she can skip over the rocks, up and down the hills, easy as a goat. The sun tans her skin honey brown, fades her glowing yellow hair to the color of light on mist. She remembers what it was like to live in a house, but she misses it less. She doesn’t concern herself with those memories.

Over and over Clementine patches her last dress, her father’s tattered canvas bags. She sews for miners who have left their wives behind or had no wives to leave. She coaxes unraveled threads back into line and reinforces thin knees, thin elbows, thinner spirits. She learns their names. She earns a reputation. The miners shuffle onto her father’s claim, nod and mumble and pay her in gold dust or fresh meat or old fabric. She takes half a ragged quilt in trade and for a time patches holes with scraps of dainty flowers, blooming pink against the dirt and sweat of camp.

She has a place. If Clementine does not grow to love the mining life, she at least finds herself feeling a thing like happiness. She tries not to think hard on this feeling, does not want to crush it in her over-eager hands. She builds it inside herself like a nest, piece by fragile piece. If she works at it long enough and stays very quiet, something may squat down and settle there.


What wondrous and magical stories Cate O’Toole has woven in these dark, revisionist tales of Clementine, who comes powerfully and heartbreakingly alive under O’Toole’s ministrations. The brilliant format allows readers to choose how they move through the collection, and which narratives they want to privilege. Reminiscent of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, O’Toole creates such utterly genuine and believable (if sometimes scary!) characters and landscapes you’ll forget you are reading fiction. And you’ll never listen to “Oh, My Darling, Clementine” in the same way after reading this book.

-Sheryl St. Germain, author of Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair

In Oh My Darling, Cate O’Toole invites us to take part in the highs and lows of the California gold rush. Each decision we make as Clementine, a miner’s daughter, brings us closer to love and fortune, or, just as easily, death and despair. With masterful, sometimes unflinching, prose, O’Toole paints the harsh realities of the untamed West where mere survival is a challenge. She asks us again and again what it is we really want, what it is we really need, and as we navigate Clementine’s many possible lives, we must decide what we’re really after: gold, love, or something closer to contentment.

-Rebecca King, Origami Zoo Press

A genius premise, wonderfully executed. Oh My Darling is both lyrical and savage. Cate O’Toole’s prose is precise and poetic, gritty and lovely. The complexity of the branched narrative matches the complexity of the central character as she navigates a world of bright possibilities and dark outcomes.

-Jacqueline May Parkison, Purdue University

All roads lead to death-it’s the choices along the journey that make the life. Cate O’Toole has masterfully created the parallel stories of Clementine, letting the reader choose her path, which, while not pretty, is made of choices, as all lives are.

-Harmony Neal, Emory University

Oh My Darling is a collection you can read over and over again and find a different ending every time. The reader has the luxury of choice where the protagonist, Clementine, does not. Her world is sparse and bullying, tough and dry. It’s filled with unforgiving landscapes and dangerous men. But Clementine is a survivor. She finds water and small pleasures and reasons to go on. But most impressively, she finds hope and delivers it to the reader in beautiful, haunting ways.

-Aubrey Hirsch, author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar

About the Author

Cate O’Toole

Cate O'Toole was awarded a Rachel Carson Fellowship and earned her MFA in fiction from Chatham University. She is the author of the chapbook Big Women, Big Girls (Stamped Books, 2011) and her stories have appeared in Six Sentences and the 6S Vol. 1 anthology, Wanderlust Review, the Linnet's Wings, shady side review and elsewhere. Cate was the 2012 recipient of the Poetry & Prose Winter Getaway's Jan-Ai Scholarship. She lives and writes in Seattle, WA.

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