I don’t think I have ever been challenged, both personally and morally, by any book more than I have Merritt Tierce’s debut novel Love Me Back. On its surface, I should truly dislike this book. Judging from the synopsis and from some key scenes in the story, it would be easy to see this book as having a strong feminist agenda. While I am far from a chauvinist, I will never be one of those guys who calls himself a feminist. For one, I am not very comfortable with absolutes, and two, I find it real phony for men make such a statement. Even if they truly mean it, it always comes off as insincere pandering to make them look cool and progressive. But anyway, there are scenes in this book that feel like they are making a case for female sexual independence through promiscuity. But while that is a debatable topic in this book, I feel many people who do take that path are missing the point. Marie, the central flawed narrator of this swift novel, is characterized in a way that doesn’t warrant pride, honor, knowledge or even sympathy. In the amoral world she finds herself inhabiting, one of waitressing, late night shifts and drug induced sex; she becomes both a victim and victimizer, the user and the used. And the same can be said of her many partners, who become spiritual identicals to Marie in the course of her sexual encounters. This book is not a feminist wale for independence, but a scathing portrait of a lifestyle where love is nothing more than a kids joke, or worse, doesn’t exist at all. The book feels like something Hubert Selby Jr. would write if he were still alive, which came as quite a surprise to me. We follow Marie, a single mom, as she wanders aimlessly through her life, in and out of waitressing jobs and other men’s beds. It is impossible not to be intrigued by the depths Marie sinks to. From her first orgasm, brought on by an older black man, to her crumbling relationship to her daughter, Marie swiftly floats between being a victim of a harsh system brought on by a simple mistake, as evidenced by a few flashbacks to her earlier success in high school, to being a full-on monster, whose appetites for sex and sexual degradation threaten to swallow her whole. An interesting subtle technique this book uses is how Marie sees the men in her life. Her first descriptions are sexual ones, and anyone who might actually care for her, like her husband and a person who tries to ask her out on an actual date, remain nameless, while we know way too much about her more toxic partners. Marie can only relate to men through sex, which also happens to be her only form of social currency in a world that cares little about her. Overall, Marie reminded me of a Dennis Lehane quote, where he says some people don’t like kindness, they just want to get into bed, turn off the lights and feast on one another. Marie is sadly one of these people, and her story ends with a whimper, and a promise that her life will continue on its current path. It can be an unpleasant, repugnant ride, but one that is brutally honest and true to itself.