Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
What It’s About:
Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.
In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.
Valentine is a haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region in a story that plumbs the depths of darkness and fear, yet offers a window into beauty and hope. Told through the alternating points of view of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, this fierce, unflinching, and surprisingly tender novel illuminates women’s strength and vulnerability, and reminds us that it is the stories we tell ourselves that keep us alive.harpercollins.com
Before I get started:
This book takes place in my boom and bust hometown of Odessa, Texas. The thing that drew me in right away was the cover with the dust storm, pumpjacks, and mesquite. My parents came to live in Odessa around the same time, during the oil boom in the same year this book takes place. My dad worked in the oil field industry starting in the 70’s up until just a couple of years ago. It was interesting to read a story so closely linked to my family history.
What I liked:
- the visually engaging cover
- the descriptions of the Odessa and west Texas
- the vulnerable yet resilient female characters
- the depictions of married life, starting a family, and loss of a spouse
What I didn’t like:
- the multiple points of view
- the disjointed feeling of the story line
I struggled to get into this book in the beginning for a couple of reasons. First, there were too many points of view. There are 7 different female characters that tell a part of the story. Only 2 of the 7 characters really stood out and the book would have benefitted from more of their experiences instead of including the other 5 points of view. Because of these alternating chapters, it was difficult to piece together what the book was really about. At about halfway through, the story finally started to come together and really drew me in.
The two characters that I liked were Mary Rose and Corrine. Mary Rose is the woman who helped Gloria, the young girl who was raped, and testified against the rapist. I enjoyed reading about Mary Rose’s experiences as a wife, mother, and community member. How her involvement in the trial affected her family, marriage, and standing in the community also grabbed my attention. Mary Rose’s husband owns a cattle ranch, is always working and also was against Mary Rose’s involvement in the trial. These factors led them to live separately, leaving Mary Rose to raise her daughter, have her second baby, and deal with all the backlash and stress of the trial all on her own. Until Corrine came into the picture.
Corrine was my most favorite character in this book. She is an elderly retired teacher who had just lost her husband to cancer. Throughout the story, she remembers how she fell in love, got married, had children, and had to live through her husband’s illness and death. I loved reading about her teaching career, decision to go back to work after having a baby, and overall relationship with her husband. They had many ups and downs throughout their marriage that included fights, hardships, happiness, and tenderness. Their relationship seemed so genuine and realistic. I haven’t read many books that have depicted marriage and motherhood in a way that I could relate to like this one.
The trial itself was interesting because it involved the issues of age, race, and consent. Gloria is Mexican, fourteen years old, and willingly got in the truck and left with the man who later raped her. The young man is white and the son of a well known pastor. So you can imagine the can of worms that is opened within the community and at the trial. Especially in a still segregated town with major discrimination against minorities. The disappointing part is that Gloria didn’t testify or even have a decent amount of involvement in the overall book. Gloria’s story could have been a really interesting one to follow because she made bad choices in her life and lived in a broken family with only her immigrant mother and U.S. veteran uncle to raise her. I would have liked to see more of what life in Odessa was like from her point of view.
The last thing that I loved about this book was the visual imagery that the author used to describe the views of the area. Being from this city, I can say that she perfectly described it. I’m honestly at a loss for words. This place is flat, brown, dusty and dry, but there is so much beauty if you know where to look.
It was early summer and the wind held still for a few minutes, here and there, the sun bestowing just the right amount of warmth on their faces when they stopped to watch the light shine through the diaphanous, narrow leaves of the town’s pecan trees.
It will be twenty years before I again walk across that spare, beautiful land out at the ranch, before I sit down on my old front porch and watch the sun go down, nothing but a dirt road standing between me and the sky, the only noise coming from cows and birds, the occasional coyote.
Try to remember this night, Ginny said. She had tears in her eyes. The moon rose orange and big across a dozen miles of pale sand in this otherwise empty corner of the world.
The multiple points of view made it difficult to get invested in the story in the beginning, but the story line eventually came together for an enjoyable read. Valentine was another book that I was reading every chance I got. The depictions of west Texas landscape, community, and way of life were spectacular. Even though the book takes place in the 1970’s, I can see elements that I remember growing up and can still see in Odessa today.