I was super lucky to get an advanced reader’s copy of Valentine, Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel. It was an absolutely stunning work of fiction that I’m honored to have been able to read before it was published on March 31, 2020.
Valentine follows the intertwining stories of a number of women in Odessa, Texas in 1976. It starts off with Gloria, the daughter of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, who is raped. Gloria goes to the farm of Mary Rose to call the police & get help, and it sets off a chain of events for these women. Mary Rose has to move to a new neighborhood to avoid her husband, who is mad that she meddled in this situation. In this new neighborhood, Mary Rose & her young daughter Aimee befriend Corrine, an alcoholic widow, and Debra Ann, a tough girl Aimee’s age who has been left by her mother. We hear stories from all of these women’s voices, and more, as the novel explores the issues of gender in the late 1970s.
Odessa is an oil town, a place where white men are in charge. They make their money on cattle ranches or oil fields and spend it in seedy bars and strip clubs. The drive around drunk & troll for women, and women of color are totally disposable. Toxic masculinity is everywhere in Odessa, but the women in this this book offered a peek into their quiet resistance.
I also thought this novel did a beautiful job portraying new motherhood. It was not a central theme to the text, but it truly resonated with me. Corrine’s postpartum depression and anxiety mirrored my own, and it was refreshing to see this in a novel about the 1970s — showing this is clearly not a new problem.
This book was beautifully written but brutal. The author is a master at character building and painting a vivid picture of her setting. However, this is obviously not a light-hearted read, given the topics & themes in the text (rape, violence against women, alcohol and drug abuse), so proceed with caution. I do hope that you pick it up when you feel that you’re able to handle these themes, because it is a 5 star read.
“Be pissed off. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.”