4th Estate Books 11th June 2020
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 Ramirez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager has been viciously attacked in a nearby oil-field – an act of brutality this is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law.
Corinne Shepard spent years pushing against the limits of her town as they closed in on the girls in her her classroom. Now, world-weary and unmoored by the loss of her husband, she has had enough of trying to save people. But her younger neighbour, Debra-Ann – wild, motherless and lonely has other ideas.
When justice for Gloria is evasive and one of the town’s women decided to take matters into her own hands, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.
Narrated by a cast of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, Valentine is a fiercely gripping, darkly funny and surprisingly tender novel about hope, and fear, and justice – and the many different forms that courage can take.
This was a buddy read with Clair @always need more books, you can check out her superb blog here we were both fortunated to be invited to a 4th Estate Book Event late last year, you can read about the event here. We were both lucky enough to pick up a copy of Valentine and now here we are… in publication month and inspired to pick this up!
I had read some mixed reviews, and honestly I wasn’t too sure what to expect, however Clair and I were both very impressed with this debut piece of fiction. This is essentially a book of interlinked stories told from the perspectives of women all linked by the small town of Odessa in 1976. The story starts and finishes with Gloria, who through the course of the book and following a horrific rape changes her name to Glory. Both Clair and I commented on how skilfully the author wrote about the rape, alluding to the details without the need for graphic writing.
What follows is a collection of narratives, interlinked stories, some closely linked to the rape of Gloria and some less obviously so, but all offer insight into how it is to be a woman living in this remote southern town. Prosperous for oil and attracting a transient male community to work the oil and providing an unsafe environment for women and girls.
Set in 1976, equality is scarce in Odessa and sexism and racism rife. Of the time, Clair and I were both surprised that one of the characters required her husband’s permission to return to work after having a child, less surprising were the justifications for rape of Gloria, 14 years old and Mexican. All to familiar, ‘she shouldn’t have got in the car’, ‘what did she expect’, etc… and the court case wasn’t easy to read about.
I was impressed with this book as was Clair, the stories were linked well, sometimes in very subtle ways. The searing heat was starkly described and tangible as was the desolate landscape and the malevolent wildlife. The characters were varied but all well developed and engaging – I particularly liked Corinne, a grieving widow with a warm heart. Not a happy story by any means but well written and a very good read which provoked an interesting discussion between Clair and I.
About the Author
Elizabeth Wetmore is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, KEnyon Review, Colorado Review, Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Iowa Review and other literary journals. A native of West Texas, she lives and works in Chicago.