Review: Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce (Double Day, 2014) 224pp
Texas-native Merritt Tierce wrote a brilliant debut novel. Is Love Me Back for everyone? Probably not. It’s a hard read even for someone like me who actually enjoyed American Psycho. But that’s a terrible comparison, because Tierce has created a character so compassionate and tragic in Marie – the opposite of Patrick Bateman – while she makes us live through Marie’s devastating decisions and difficult circumstances.
After a surprise teenage pregnancy, Marie marries her child’s father, though he leaves her, taking the child with him, after a series of her infidelities. By her early twenties, she is drinking and snorting cocaine and having sex with strangers with dramatic excess. She learns at a young age to be alluring and use sex to comfort her and attract others. She’s also a career waitress, having started at Olive Garden at sixteen before her pregnancy. Tierce gives the reader the raw details of life as a server with as much humor, grief, and horror as when she is describing Marie’s numb but frantic attitude toward her many sex partners and her reckless drug use. Marie harms herself, cutting and burning, which she deems a relief and a release. She feels deeply for her daughter and her daughter’s father, and she respects, loves, and hates her coworkers. She slowly tells us that there are no easy answers to how she got to this point in her life, and there will be no easy answers in getting out. Yet, she takes solace in the order she surrounds herself with at restaurants. She says of her work, “I didn’t understand how to be a wife or mother. But there were rules to being a waitress. The main one was don’t fuck up.” And fuck up she does, but not at work where she is praised and valued and, ultimately (and mercilessly), used. But it’s complicated. Marie is smart and funny, and sad and self-destructive.
Tierce doesn’t simply let Marie tell this story from her current, lucrative job at a high-end Dallas steakhouse, instead she looks back at Marie’s life and past mistakes. She takes us back and forth in time and allows Marie different perspectives, like when, as a young mother, she speaks directly to her daughter. She wistfully reminisces about meeting her daughter’s father on a spring break missionary trip to Mexico. Or when she remembers the many high-paced restaurant jobs she’s suffered, working at a break-neck speed for callous, mean-spirited and/or abusive bosses to serve petty, messy breakfast crowds. Or when she is heartbreakingly candid about her many, many sexual encounters. She admits, “There was the night with Casey and Florida John. They got me high and then played Call of Duty while taking turns with me.” And it goes on from there. All of the different men and women and bleak scenarios.
This is a bold book about unyielding disappointment. In fact, there’s little hope here, but you CAN find it. There are brief moments where Marie tells you exactly what she wants, and in some ways she gets it, but she never escapes the very blunt dissatisfaction that rules her every moment. Do I trust Marie? Yes. Do I like Marie? Yeah, I guess I do, but it’s complicated. The book only takes us to her young adulthood, and I badly want to know what happens to her. She talks a lot about how life just IS: “Here we are being hard and relentlessly dazzling in spite of whatever shit. We are saying to each other … If you have an affliction, any remorse or anguish, eat it, drink it, snort it, fuck it, use it, suck it, kill it.” But here are tender times when she gives you just enough glimpses of another side, more hopeful and more loving, that make you itch for more. Read this book, even if you think you can’t handle it. Marie is worth it, despite what she thinks.
A few practical notes: Love Me Back was published by in 2014 but was just released in paperback on June 9. If you check this book out from the public library, there is a chance that you will see all of the things (mustard, wine, pizza?) that an earlier patron (not me) was eating while they read.
by Meeghan Kane