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Love Me Back
Meta Rosenberg Fellow and National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree, Merritt Tierce.
The journey of a brilliant, damaged girl into the vulgar madness that is the restaurant industry.
Sex, Drugs, and A Six-Top-On-Your-Ass-About-Getting-More-Bread-Sticks
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski, Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Marie, a pixie-esque, semi-sociopathic hardcore food server.
The bulk of the novel takes place in Dallas, Texas, and it’s a fine town and all, but no.
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.
For the first ten years of my working life, I worked in the restaurant industry: pizza cook, dishwasher, grill cook, busboy, waiter, banquet waiter, bar back, bartender. The only position I didn’t work was as a host or manager, and that was mostly because there wasn’t any action in either position. And this is the biggest attraction (other than it’s super easy to get hired and you typically get a free meal at the end of your shift, and, oh, easy access to TONS of free drugs and booze) to working in a restaurant, the constant forward momentum, the insane pacing of Friday and Saturday nights where you bang out seventy covers in the blink of an eye and it leaves you sweaty, shaking, and exhausted. You also meet the most insane people humanity has to offer, and they’re mostly bugshit because they’ve been in the restaurant business way too long and the rush has warped them. If you’re smart, you get out while you’re young. You finish college, you move onto something—anything—else so you can see the world at normal speed again.
Love Me Back is a collection of restaurant stories. No, it’s not a short story collection, but a novel of one young woman’s descent into the barely controlled madness of the service industry. Tierce’s protagonist, Marie, is an emotional wreck. A good Christian girl and brilliant high school student who becomes pregnant on a church mission to South America and is faced with how to make a living to support her infant daughter. Marie is a mess of hormones and broken dreams, and has more or less emotionally cut herself off from those who should be most important in her life, including her daughter. Marie scores a gig at the Olive Garden, and so begins her journey from chain restaurant hell to mid-priced bistro, and finally to working in a high-end steakhouse that is only referred to as The Restaurant. Along the way, Marie attempts to fill the emotional holes in her life with drugs, booze, occasional self-immolation, and fucking. Lots and lots of consensual, semi-degrading fucking.
In a word, Love Me Back is DARK. Marie is the embodiment of an anti-hero. Her self-destructive actions are dangerous not only to herself, but to her daughter and anyone else she comes into contact with outside of the wait staff at whatever restaurant she’s working at. You should hate and pity her, but yet you find yourself asking if you were in her shoes, would you do the same? Would you attempt to fill the voids of disappointment and self-loathing in the same ways? Tierce charts Marie’s journey expertly with her visceral, muscular prose, never holding back on the details of Marie’s adrenaline charged days and nights as a food server and early mornings and days off numbing herself to the mundane rigors of the world outside of restaurant life.
Yes, Love Me Back is at times graphic (the self-appointed Amazon potty-mouth police are going to hate this one), but this aspect of the novel is over-shadowed by Tierce’s skill as a storyteller and her ability to interweave Marie’s story with the complex, absorbing supporting cast of characters who flit in and out of Marie’s transient, self-absorbed orbit. Ultimately, Love Me Back should be a tale of heartbreak and inevitable redemption, but thankfully Tierce realizes there’s no such thing as atonement, there’s only the next shift.
Bookshots review written for LitReactor.com by Keith Rawson