Love Me Back is one long trip. I’ve never done drugs, but from all the books I’ve read that talk about what it’s like to be high, Maria is definitely tripping (and from more than just drugs). And reading her story, in a disjointed first person present tense, took me along for the ride in the only way I will ever experience such a thing.
I’m not sure if I’m just missing it, but Love Me Back doesn’t really have a plot. There’s no real beginning, middle, or end. And that’s actually a good thing. The book is more of an experience of Maria’s life, of how so much promise can go so wrong. I was drawn in immediately by Maria’s honesty and brokenness. Despite her numerous flaws, I cared about her immediately. For such a broken creature, she’s extremely likeable. Maybe it’s because she’s so strong. And she fights that strength with all she has.
There’s only one thing I don’t quite understand. I’m not completely sure why she fell so far (from valedictorian to wildly promiscuous waitress). I think (after considering it for a while) that it had a lot to do with the way she was treated by her church when she told the elders that she had gotten pregnant. On a mission trip. She did all the right things after, marrying the father, trying to play house. But it was almost like she felt that her life had already gone to shit, and she didn’t feel the need to make it any better. Instead, she tries to destroy herself (drugs, lots of sex, working all the time), but she’s so strong that she just can’t seem to do it.
Love Me Back is an amazing example of what writers that come out of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop do with stories and words. After having taken undergraduate classes at the Workshop, I could tell that Merritt had studied there, even before I read her jacket bio. That’s not a bad thing. It’s an amazing thing. At the same time, Love Me Back is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The prose is just beautiful. Almost a millennial version of Norman Maclean.
But I feel like I should warn you. Love Me Back is ridiculously intense. So make sure you’re in a good place emotionally. Maria will draw you in, and if you’re feeling at all vulnerable she won’t let you back out. If you’ve noticed the relative seriousness of this review (as opposed to my usual clever cuteness), you’ll have an idea of how amazing this book truly is.