Elizabeth Wetmore – Valentine

Review From User :

An astonishingly unforgettable debut from the talented Elizabeth Wetmore, historical fiction set in the searing heat and dust of West Texas, in the cursed bust and boom oil town of Odessa in 1976, a white man's town in every which way, where men die in a variety of circumstances but if a woman dies, its more likely than not to be at the hands of a man. For women, narrow limits and prescribed perameters of life have them desperately dreaming of seeing a wider world, where pregnancy and motherhood are steel traps with a vice like grip that crush spirits, dreams, hopes and imprisons, a life sentence with no parole. Odessa is a town, a community full of fools and sinners, that is as guilty as sin, with its vicious, unapologetic racism running rampant through its veins, where women and girls are abused, condemned and murdered with impunity, and justice is a forlorn unattainable ideal.

Wetmore examines Odessa and the social norms and attitudes of the period through the lives of women and girls, such as the married and pregnant Mary Rose Whitehead, the elderly, stubborn, grumpy and bereaved Corinne Shepherd, mourning the loss of her beloved husband, Potter, 17 year old Karla Sibley working as a waitress, the plucky 10 year old Debra Ann, missing her mother, Ginny, who loves her daughter, but needs more as she escapes the town, and 14 year old Mexican Gloria. Mary Rose's courage shines like a beacon when she stands up for the barely alive, battered and raped Gloria when the girl turns up at her ranch. Her husband, Robert, like the other menfolk, consider her beyond the pale, and a race traitor for her willingness to testify against the paedophile and rapist Dale Strickland, the son of a preacher man. After all, Gloria, who becomes Glory, is Mexican, asking for it, and anyway Mexican girls are not the same as white girls. Mary Rose dares to dream of justice for Gloria, but Corinne has no such illusions.

Wetmore relates an Odessa where the women, despite everything that stands in their path, support and help each other, such as the indomitable Corinne coming to the aid of Mary Rose as her unbridled wrath and rage at injustice push her close to the edges of insanity, Suzanne Ledbetter with her voluntary provisions to those in need, and the women supporting Karla, determining an alternative justice. Debra Ann's compassion, kindness, and relationship with the drain pipe living ex-soldier, Jesse Belden, allow the two of them to meet each others need to be cared for when they are neglected by everyone else. Victor, Gloria's uncle, looks after her when her mother is deported, illustrating his wisdom in understanding that nothing causes more suffering than vengeance.

This is a stellar character driven read that details the lives and circumstances of this place and this time, a novel with an ironic title of Valentine, the only true Valentines in the novel are Corinne and Potter, and Potter is dead. Wetmore is unafraid of venturing into sacrilegious territory where her characters can feel the all too real chains and boredom of motherhood, where you can love someone with all your heart and still wish they weren't there. This is a hugely memorable and terrific read, and I just cannot wait for whatever Wetmore turns her attention to next and writes. Highly recommended. Many thanks to HarperCollins 4th Estate for an ARC.

Media Size : 2.2 MB