I don't think it's possible to read Love Me Back and not react powerfully. Reviewers have described it as "raw," "blunt," "dark," "uncompromising." It's compulsive reading even when you don't want to follow where it's leading. Sometimes it hits too close to home. Often the book is harrowing. Divisive books, though, are the ones that push us to grow individually and as a society. I thought it was brilliant (and disturbing); I have colleagues whose opinions I value who were repelled.
Here's the deal: Love Me Back is the story of Marie, a waitress working through a series of restaurants in Texas until she lands at a high end steak house in Dallas. She's incredibly good at her job, mechanically serving celebrities and businessmen and sports stars each night. She's also a girl (and I deliberately use "girl" instead of "woman" because Marie seems emotionally stuck after events derailed her college plans) with demons and prone to dangerous behaviors.
Merritt Tierce was named as one of the 5 Under 35 authors to watch, a big deal in the publishing world because it signals that here is a new voice that will challenge readers and the state of books. It's like being named ESPN's #1 high school football recruit with the expectation that the player will become the next Peyton Manning. This recognition will guarantee that critics take Merritt Tierce seriously. She's talented. She deserves that respect. However, what more impresses me is that she is a talented woman who's written a fairly autobiographical novel that challenges a ton of the controversial topics that mostly people attempt to ignore, particularly in the mannered South and Texas.
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Love Me Back is a restaurant book. Merritt Tierce actually worked in the Olive Garden in Abilene where Gianna once locked my keys in the car. Fans of Kitchen Confidential will recognize types like the managers and owners and cooks and wait staff. Love Me Back is a Texas book, rooted in the traditional values of religion and shame. Love Me Back is a feminist book that doesn't flinch from the label. Love Me Back is the kind of book that censors love to hate. Love Me Back is powerful, compulsive, obsessive reading that dares you to flinch. Is this a book that everyone will like? God, I hope not. I think it pushes buttons that need to be pushed and that's going to upset a lot of people. But Love Me Back is also a book I champion. I want it to upset people. Maybe upset people will see the invisible Maries of the world and question how they came to be.