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Lone Star Book Reviews
By Michelle Newby, NBCC
Contributing Editor

 

Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.

 

Lone Star Book Reviews
of Texas books appear weekly
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Born and raised in Texas, Merritt Tierce worked in various secretarial, retail, and restaurant  positions until 2009, when she moved to Iowa City to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as the Meta Rosenberg Fellow.

 

After graduating in 2011 with her MFA from Iowa, she received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, and she is a 2013 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Author.

 

She  served as the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, a Dallas-based nonprofit abortion fund, from 2011 until 2014. She volunteered and worked for the TEA Fund from its founding in 2004, and co-wrote the abortion play One in 3 with Gretchen Dyer and Victoria Loe Hicks. One in 3 played to sold-out houses for most of its three-week run and stimulated a local conversation about the reality of abortion in women’s lives.

 

Merritt’s first published story, "Suck It," was selected by ZZ Packer to be anthologized in the 2008 edition of New Stories from the South, and her first book, Love Me Back, was published by Doubleday in 2014, to wide acclaim. Merritt lives near Dallas with her husband and children.

 

Author photo by Michael Lionstar

 

Fiction

Merritt Tierce

Love Me Back: A Novel

New York: Doubleday

Hardcover, 978-0-385538077

224 pages, $23.95

September 16, 2014

New York: Anchor Paperback 978-0-345807137

224 pages, $15.95

June 9, 2015

 

Love Me Back is “5 Under 35” honoree and Rona Jaffe award winner Merritt Tierce’s debut novel. Marie is a young twentysomething woman who lands a coveted waitressing job at an upscale Uptown Dallas restaurant. Serving herself up night after night, Marie is mired in a miasma of hedonistic nihilism, the drugs and alcohol and musical beds her clawing for oblivion. “But it wasn’t about pleasure; it was about how some kinds of pain make fine antidotes to others.”

 

Containing no such thing as plot or pacing, the narrative jumping back and forth through time, Love Me Back reads more like a series of linked short stories. Tierce’s writing reminds me of Mary Gaitskill. Her language in Marie’s first-person account is stark, potent, sparing nothing, with intermittent injections of sardonic humor. “At the club he schmoozed Dallas’s most expensive, meticulously produced women”— we’re all familiar with these women, yes?

 

Her descriptions of the other personalities at the restaurant are sharply observed. “Egregious enthusiasm is Danny’s trademark— he can transmit his buzz and momentum to anyone at will. This is called charisma. His charisma— any charisma, I suppose—is entirely performance, yet in being never more nor less than a performer he somehow remains endearingly genuine.” We’ve all had our senses assaulted by this guy, yes?

 

Marie is not immoral, not a bad person—rather she seems to be lost in an amoral spiral. She’s a loyal friend, a hard worker, compassionate with those worse off than she is, and a loving, attentive mother when with her daughter. Marie has no agency; she merely reacts. She doesn’t think she deserves agency, convinced that whatever happens to her is what she deserves. “Whatever is in me that makes decisions is now full of an accretion of plaque, the chalky consequence of, paradoxically, so many hollow moments.” However, there is no self-pity here, no shirking of responsibility, no denial. This is a clear-eyed study of a train wreck on two legs. By the end of the book, there is reason for hope for Marie and she’s obtained some hard-earned wisdom. “In that restaurant all of us were off. Chipped. Everybody on the way to the curve. Maybe it’s the same in a law firm, a nail salon, whatever high or low. Maybe that’s just what it is to be alive, you’ve got that broken sooty piece of something lodged inside you making you veer left.”

 

Love Me Back was hailed upon release as a new sort of Texas literature, and many speculated that the predominance of cowboys and the rural had finally been left behind. Well, this is different from what Texas writers have historically produced and I welcome the expansion of topic. Love Me Back is aggressive and urban and casts an unflinching light upon a certain set of vapid emperors who have no clothes.

 

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