I spent much of the morning paging backwards through Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back looking for that paragraph that gutted me, had me curled up on my side, the book in my hand, deep breathing to avoid tears. Of course I can’t find it. It was a good’un though, about being desired by someone you love and making that be enough.
Anyway, it was not an unpleasant way to spend the morning, reading the book backwards. It’s hard to resist the Tierce and fierce rhyme, because it’s so apt. Her writing is fierce. It is bold, unwavering, and relentless. It is not fun. There is not a lot of joy in reading it, and yet the book clings to you in ways that aren’t unwelcome.
While Love Me Back is labeled “a novel” it doesn’t read like one. I’m not sure what it reads like. Fiction, I suppose. Isn’t that the label they slapped on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I like that. I think it fits Tierce’s book too.
This is a collection of vignettes and stories about young Marie who was destined for the Ivy League before a teen pregnancy waylaid her future and she ends up working as a server in an ever tonier series of restaurants. The book glides back and forth through time. Here Marie is in Mexico on some sort of religious mission falling for another high school boy. Here she is working at a swanky steakhouse in Texas. There she is being fucked by two men in a penthouse. Now she’s working at Chili’s.
Marie’s despair over her situation is palpable and her awareness of how she’s not doing anything to make it better is frustrating and yet it’s still compelling. And the behind the scenes look at what it’s like to work in restaurants is really, really good.
As a reader who often longs for a discernible structure, a whiff of a plot, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Love Me Back. The only thing to ground you in Marie’s story is her relentless voice, and it’s a testament to Tierce’s writing that I was carried through this series of dark, despairing slices of life, something I would usually abandon with a roll of my eyes.
This is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for joy or fun, it won’t be found here. If you’re up for some courageous writing and loosely connected stories, pick this one up.