I committed to buying, reading and giving an honest review of Merritt Tierce’s debut novel Love Me Back after hearing about a campaign to smear the book with one-star reviews  because of objections to Tierce’s politics.

The novel, which is partly based on Tierce’s experiences waiting tables at a high-end Dallas steakhouse, follows a young middle-class woman’s path of self-destruction after her life is thrown off track by an unplanned teenage pregnancy. Protagonist Marie feels she has no maternal instinct (indeed, the passages showing her neglecting her child were most heartbreaking) and she uses work, drugs, alcohol, sex, and cutting to numb and escape. Marie explains, “…in about three months’ time I had sex with approximately 30 different men who worked for or patronized my steakhouse, the bar next door, Il Castello, and Cosimo…But it wasn’t about pleasure; it was about how some kinds of pain make fine antidotes to others.”

The book received the attention of some conservative groups and became the focus of attacks after Tierce mentioned in an interview that she waited on Rush Limbaugh twice while working at a Dallas steakhouse. Both times, he left her a $2000 tip on a modest bill. Tierce is a pro-choice woman and the executive director of the Dallas-based non-profit Texas Equal Access Fund (TEA Fund), a grassroots feminist organization that provides financial assistance to women who cannot afford the cost of abortion.  Because of her principles, she felt uncomfortable accepting the money from Limbaugh, so she donated it to TEA Fund. Immediately after this interview, conservative news shows attacked Tierce, who’s written about her own abortion experience here. Dozens of people smeared her book on Amazon.com, giving it the lowest possible rating. It is clear from reviews left by members of this community that they didn’t bother to read the book before rating and commenting.

As a writer and a lover of books, I find attacking an artist’s work in this manner childish and unfair. In this age of the Internet, online reviews of books matter more and more. Fortunately for Tierce, her talent is already recognized and this will likely be something she can laugh off.

Some aspects of the book that I appreciated:

Unlovable female protagonist. I can’t think of a character who would make Americans more uncomfortable than a drug-abusing young woman who abandons her daughter, freely gives her body to random men, and has an abortion because she isn’t sure if the father is the husband or one of the many men with whom she’s sleeping. And yet, Marie got under my skin. I’m still thinking about her and rooting for her, though I know she will ultimately disappoint me.

Writing Style. Plain, unsentimental prose that grips the reader from the first page and carries the novel from beginning to end. Rather than a narrative arc typical to novels, this is more of a wild, uncomfortable ride.

Structure. The book moves in a non-linear manner, which I find engaging, and information unfolds in a way that challenges the reader’s assumptions about class. In some chapters, protagonist Marie speaks directly to the reader, while in other chapters she speaks to her young daughter. It’s not at all gimmicky, but feels true to the heart of the story.

Art is a response to the world, a comment on the human condition. It’s meant to cause a reaction. Tierce, who’s been recognized by the literary world as an edgy new talent, created in Love Me Back a work of art, and she, like all artists, deserves a fair critique of her work, no matter a person’s politics.

 

 

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