Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore is a hauntingly powerful, and beautiful debut novel set in Odessa, Texas in 1976. Wetmore has created four main characters with deep narratives, and all intertwined in ways that make the reader truly understand them in various ways. The detailed characterizations help to draw an accurate divide between age, class and race in west Texas in the mid-1970’s.
The story takes an emotional toll, right from the start when Gloria Ramirez, a fourteen-year-old Hispanic girl, who projects a tough-girl image, is attacked and raped after getting into a stranger’s truck. So much is taken from Gloria in that single night. Mary Rose Whitehead, the wife of a cattle rancher, mother of a young daughter and pregnant, finds Gloria on her doorstep after the attack. Mary Rose bravely keeps Gloria safe with no small danger to herself. However, once the immediate threat has passed, Mary Rose discovers the west Texas community is far from impressed by her act of courage and heroism. She is threatened by others in the town to the point of harassment. Corrine Shepard who is a grieving widow and drinks to ease the pain of her loss, is the last person to see Gloria before the attack. Corrine and Mary Rose form an unlikely bond and share in many frustrations. Debra Ann Pierce, a precocious 10-year-old abandoned recently by her mother, inserts herself in the other character’s lives, trying to find her purpose, be accepted and be loved.
The setting of the book is also a character in and of itself. Wetmore so accurately provides vivid descriptions of west Texas in the mid-70’s: the seclusion, the attitudes, the climate and the economical tension of an oil town that has many booms and busts. This is an era of time where women are mere extensions of their husbands, and where their jobs are to be someone’s wife and someone’s mother.
Valentine is rich in character development with each character possessing deep, internal dialogue. This gives the reader a personal and intimate look at their thoughts, revealing their hopes, fears, regrets and longing. It is easy to lose oneself in each of these stories, which are like cameos inside a larger story. This strong feminine cast shines brightly against the desolate reality of the old dusty oil town and will leave a lasting imprint on each reader’s heart.