The harrowing, heartfelt debut novel from Elizabeth Wetmore tells the story of a West Texas town reeling from an oil boom and a brutal rape case in the late 1970s. Surrounded by a harsh and beautiful landscape, the town of Odessa serves as a microcosm of the U.S., allowing Wetmore to explore themes of motherhood, sexism, capitalism, violence, immigration and race.
The story opens on 14-year-old Glory, the unrelenting sun shining down on her, her rapist fast asleep. Covered in cuts and bruises and suffering from organ damage, Glory silently wills herself to walk, to escape. To live. She comes to the farmhouse porch of pregnant Mary Rose, who sends Glory inside when the assailant, a young white man, comes to claim his “girlfriend.” Mary Rose denies Glory’s presence and holds tight to her rifle as she waits for the cops to arrive. After they take the villain into custody, Mary Rose can’t shake the feeling that she’s failed the girl. She’s compelled to testify in the case, which causes a rift between her and her husband. When Mary Rose subsequently moves into town, she meets her new neighbor Corrine, who’s drinking herself into oblivion as she mourns the recent loss of her husband. We also meet spunky 11-year-old Debra Ann Pierce, who steals cans of food to help a homeless war veteran. As the trial nears, Mary Rose receives daily threats from drunk townsfolk who call her horrible things.
With her children at home with Corrine, Mary Rose takes the stand to testify. It’s been hours and hours since she’s breastfed her newborn baby, and her vulnerability in this moment—and her sacrifices to get here—will leave readers contemplating the very nature of justice.
As these women navigate what is decidedly a man’s world with feminine grace, Valentine becomes a testament to the resilience of the female spirit. Wetmore’s prose is both beautiful and bone-true, and this mature novel hardly feels like a debut. You’ll wish you had more time with each of these powerful women when it’s over.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Elizabeth Wetmore shares a glimpse of growing up in Odessa.