From the get-go, we have to say that the following comparison does something of a disservice to Merritt Tierce’s debut novel, Love Me Back, but it certainly goes some way towards giving you a clear impression of what to expect from the book. The comparison goes like this: 50 Shades of Grey meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. It’s a disservice because, as we don’t even need to say, 50 Shades of Grey is just a terrible book and Love Me Back is not a terrible book. We use the comparison merely as a short hand because here is a novel that, like the Bourdain, wears its familiarity with restaurant life on its mucky sleeve, a novel that, like 50SoG, isn’t backward about coming forward when it comes to the beat with two backs.
Our narrator is Marie, a short, young, muscular mother of one, whose relentless cheating spoiled her marriage and who know works hard (and it should be said plays hard) as she comes to terms with the life she has forged for herself. Despite the looseness of her morals (Marie is the kind of woman Liz Phair would sing about), Marie is likeable and funny, and her tale is a compelling one. What’s more, Tierce has a strong voice and a neat way of arranging slightly unchronological sequences in a way that keeps the reader on their toes. She has a powerful way with a slightly disaffected throwaway comment too:
“You get tired of being a fixture in a restaurant every night, even if like me you somehow love the job. Something about the word waitress too that always bothered me, made my lower belly quiver in that bad way, like when you walk through a nursing home.”
There’s wisdom here for those of us who have struggled somewhat in our lives, or for those of us who have worked all out but mostly run on the spot:
“Accept that shit is all fucked up and roll with it, I said. Don’t bitch, just adapt. Nothing is going to go right and everything is going to be hard.”
Love Me Back isn’t quite the perfect debut you would hope for, though, despite the plethora of recommendations from some respect-worthy names (Carrie Brownstein, Rupert Thomson, St Vincent, Claire Vaye Watkins). For one thing (and as we say this, we know it almost feels like a cliché but as with every cliché blah blah blah some truth blah), Marie doesn’t actually go on much of a journey here. She works hard, sleeps around, worries about her daughter, acts irresponsibly, drinks, takes drugs, sleeps around, works. It’s basically Nurse Jackie in a restaurant or two. There isn’t much in the way of change. Which, hey, you know, fine. But good to know up front that this is one long road of misbehaviour. As with portions of American Psycho, too, there are moments – extreme moments – that get a little dull:
“When he says Suck it, he’s saying It’s a circus honey-love, so fuck those motherfuckers. And when my retort is Get it out I’m saying 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.”
(Taken in isolation the above para reads well, but cumulatively, it represented a point where this reader, at least, felt – okay, I get it, nihilism, are there any bright points on the road ahead?). To which you might say, so the worst parts of this book read like Bret Easton Ellis? Where do I sign up? To which we’d say, true. But Merritt Tierce doesn’t yet feel as good a writer as, say, Sara Gran (whose books Come Closer and Dope we will gladly recommend until the cows come home and relax on the couch with their hooves up on the table).
There is promise here. There is. And we are big fans of promise. Big, big fans. We will certainly keep an eye out for what Tierce does next. We would just say that, next time, if the novel can include a story rather than sewn together interludes, we will be much happier bunnies.
Any Cop?: An interesting and sexy debut, certainly. Definitely worth checking out. We have reservations, yeah, but still, if you catch this and spend some time in its orbit, it’s still time well spent.