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Book Nook: Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce


Here's my review of another knockout debut novel. This one ran recently in the Cox Ohio newspapers:

2014 has been quite the year for debut novels. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce makes another impressive addition to this growing stack. Love Me Back's narrator is Marie. As the story opens Marie is starting a career as a waitress: "I'm a hard worker, I tell the manager." She's being interviewed at an Olive Garden restaurant and she really needs the job. Marie is a single mom but she doesn't have custody of her child. It's complicated. They hire her. This marks the beginning of her career in food service. While she is climbing the career ladder and obtaining experience that will ultimately land her a position in an exclusive Dallas steakhouse she is also very much on the way down. In her personal life she is on a jagged descent. Tierce describes Marie's downhill trajectory with prose that scalds. As Marie gradually melts down in a cascade of drugs and meaningless sex this reviewer was withering right along with her. There's nothing pretty or redeeming about it. Some readers will feel sorry for Marie. But that's not the point. The author's portrayal of Marie is blunt and unsympathetic. We observe as Marie makes what appear to be poor choices. She continually places herself in situations where she is bound to get hurt. She doesn't seem to feel much of anything unless she's with her child. Those precious moments with her child offer her a brief respite from the numbness of her existence. During these interludes Marie actually feels her emotions: "Just imagining it-the everything of you-my body tingles and quivers like the air inside a guitar. I am freezing. I get into bed with you. You like staying with me because you get to sleep with me. You are so warm but I can't stop shivering. I feel a soaring bliss-I adore you-I feel a plummeting ugly resentment..." Love Me Back depicts a woman trapped in a cycle which will be starkly familiar to some women in this country. She's highly intelligent-she once aspired to do something with her life. She was headed to an Ivy League college when she got pregnant. Her ambitions derailed, she's now merely a waitress staggering beneath her burdensome existence. She channels her sadness and fury into being the best waitress that she can be. She takes pride in it. If you have ever worked in a restaurant you'll probably recognize the worlds Tierce describes. She is writing what she knows. In an interview the author told me that she once worked in a high end steakhouse in Dallas. On two separate occasions she waited on Rush Limbaugh. She must have been an excellent server. Each time Limbaugh tipped her two thousand dollars. During my conversation with Tierce I asked her about the profanity and overt sexual language. She joked that the cover probably should have a parental advisory warning to advise parents that they might want to avoid reading it. Love Me Back is raw and so very twisted. This brilliant work of fiction is one of the most stunning debut novels of 2014.

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Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities. Listen to the Book Nook with Vick Mickunas for intimate conversations about books with the writers who create them. Vick Mickunas reviews books for the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News Sun.