Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

The book cover depicts a dust storm across a dry landscape of orange dirt,  with oil rigs and a solitary tree in the distance and purple stormclouds in the sky above.

by Aimee Z.

Content warning for book: sexual assault

1976, Odessa, Texas. The wild oil boom brings equally wild young transients from as far away as Arkansas and the Carolinas. These “roughnecks” work and play hard, drinking all night at the local cantina. When Gloria, a rebellious fifteen-year-old Mexican girl, accepts a truck ride from such a blue-eyed stranger who calls her “Valentine,” she doesn’t expect to be raped, beaten, and left for dead on the dusty Texas range.

She surely doesn’t expect to awake at dawn, shoeless, black-eyed, her spleen ruptured, ribs and jaw busted, watching her rapist sleep off his drunk in the cab of his old truck. But she does. Stealthily, Gloria wills herself over sagebrush and shale, to what first seems a mirage – a farmhouse. 

Gloria bangs on the door and a child answers followed by one of the most gloriously grounded characters in recent fiction, the very pregnant Mary Rose. Gloria is in the worst shape Mary Rose has ever seen. She sees something else, too – way out on that dusty red road, a sky blue truck is racing toward her. 

Mary Rose yanks Gloria inside, shushes her little girl, and waddles out to the front porch to meet Gloria’s sweet-talking rapist with her rancher husband’s Winchester .22.  He’s intent, too, in getting back “his little Mexican gal.”

I found the prose taut and gorgeously written by first-time novelist Wetmore, whose affection for Texas is only surpassed by her fierce and pragmatic women — Mary Rose, Corrine, Gloria, and more. You’ll love them for their pushback, for their ‘Me Too” attitude against the structural racism and ingrained misogyny that defined West Texas oil boomtowns in the 70’s.

Elizabeth Wetmore’s Valentine is also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive. 

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

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