Review of Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Valentine, written by Elizabeth Wetmore, is a beautifully crafted and evocative novel that explores the lives of women in 1970s rural Texas. The book centers around the brutal rape of a 14-year-old Mexican-American girl, Gloria Ramirez, and the impact it has on the women’s lives who intersect with her. What follows is a heart-wrenching story of female resilience, collective trauma, and the power of support and solidarity.
One of the most striking aspects of Valentine is Wetmore’s powerful writing style. Her words are painted with vivid imagery and rich, lyrical prose. This creates a sense of intimacy with the characters and their struggles. Furthermore, her skill at crafting realistic and compelling characters is unrivaled. Through the perspectives of Corrine Shepard, Mary Rose Whitehead, Gloria Ramirez, and other women, Wetmore paints a tapestry that depicts the constraints of race, class, and gender in Odessa, Texas.
Another strength of Valentine lies in its exploration of the intersectional issues which affected women in the 1970s. Wetmore names and offers nuanced analyses of issues like the gendered expectations in marriage and motherhood, systemic racism in policing and cultural prejudices against people of color. The novel notably communicates these ideas with a deep sensitivity and grace, without overdoing the grandstanding, moralizing or other forms of performative social justice.
Moreover, the book manages to be heartbreakingly real while not unnecessarily sensational. With a catalog of authentic experiences of her characters, Wetmore refrains from narrating to the point of desensitizing readers to the tragedy or returning to the absurdity of the situation; rather, she portrays the situations genuinely, allowing readers to create a connection with the characters.
Valentine is a snapshot of a time and a place, but it’s also a celebration of women’s strength, resilience, and resistance in the face of adversity. The theme that runs through the novel is one of the collective trauma that impresses so much on almost each character's experience. They demonstrate a powerful resilience that enables them to thrive even under the most challenging circumstances. They strengthen one another through listening, emotional support and providing a sense of belonging that allows Gloria to recover in her own time.
In essence, Valentine is a novel that captivates the readers with its storytelling and thoughtful themes. It offers a welcome respite from typical cookie-cutter narratives, providing an empowering, sensitive, and nuanced take on the lives of women that are often overlooked or ignored in our history books. Wetmore's debut novel is rightly hailed as one that deserves to be read widely and highly recommended for any reader interested in exploring women's experiences in an era that still echoes in our society.