Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is an impactful story that highlights the strength of women. However, I did think it missed the mark in some areas.
Literary fiction is one of the most respected genres out there. It is typically the one that is recognized with all the major awards. No doubt your high school English class discussed several literary novels. The writing is rich and reflective while the stories are slow moving so that it really allows the reader to think and ponder what’s happening to the characters. There’s not a lot of action or even dialogue as it’s more about character development and motivations. Plus, a lot of descriptions about landscape, which let’s face it, can sometimes go overboard.
Valentine is probably one of the most literary novels I’ve read in some time. The writing truly takes you to ’70s Odessa, Texas; you can feel the dirt, the flat landscape, the smallness of the town. The characters are vivid and felt real. There is dialogue but never in quotations and really not too much at that. This features excellent writing. But it’s not a perfect story, which I will discuss more below.
First, the synopsis:
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.
The brutality of Gloria’s attack starts off this novel. It’s absolutely horrifying. When she runs away from her rapist, she ends up on Mary Rose’s house who does her best to protect Gloria from her attacker. I actually had a completely different idea where the story was going from there, which I won’t go into because of spoilers, but I will say when it didn’t go that direction, I was disappointed.
I also was quite dishearten that Gloria is barely in this story. We know that after she is attacked, she refuses to go by Gloria and instead uses the name Glory but not much more than that. When you think about it, the novel and all the actions by the characters, revolve around what happened to her. But yet, other than the first chapter, a chapter in the middle and the end, it leaves Glory out of the equation. It’s a bit messy to consider that the story is really about these white women reacting to what happened but Glory herself doesn’t have much presence in the story. I think this was such a missed opportunity and oversight by the author to not include more of Glory’s perspective. I wanted to know so much more about her.
Lots of perspectives
So this story features the perspectives of many different women in the town (and that of a child). Let me first say that there were too many and I can pinpoint which areas could have been cut to allow more of Glory’s voice.
But that’s not to say some of the other characters weren’t compelling—I was so engaged with Mary Rose’s story and the fallout she receives from protecting Glory. Her neighbor Corrine, an older woman who just lost her husband, is very entertaining—a grumpy lady with a heart of gold. But we have more characters than that to follow and I thought it got a little too much. Mary Rose, Corrine and Glory were the ones I was most interested in.
Tackling sexism and race
As you can see this is a heavy story. It really dives into how cruel and narrow-minded people can be. The ’70s weren’t really that long ago and it’s horrifying to read the men’s treatment of women and how some women sided with these disgusting men. And this type of behavior still persists. There’s a lot that happens in the novel that you can still see happening today.
There’s so much to be frustrated with as you read the horrible actions. But there truly is hope in the story. And some people do show kindness and goodness. We all can use reminders of the importance of standing up for ourselves and each other.
This wasn’t a perfect novel for me but I did think it was intriguing and engaging in many parts.
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