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Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
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.
Valentine is a haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region in a story that plumbs the depths of darkness and fear, yet offers a window into beauty and hope. Told through the alternating points of view of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, this fierce, unflinching, and surprisingly tender novel illuminates women’s strength and vulnerability, and reminds us that it is the stories we tell ourselves that keep us alive.
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Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is a 2020 Harper publication.
After fourteen- year old Gloria Ramirez is beaten and raped, she escapes her attacker, finally making her way to the doorstep of Mary Rose Whitehead. Mary Rose was home alone with her daughter, but bravely keeps Gloria safe with so small danger to herself. However, once the immediate threat has passed, Mary Rose discovers the community is far from impressed by her act of courage and heroism.
Because the accused rapist is a well- connected young white man and Gloria is a Hispanic girl- Mary Rose’s non-conformity not only earns her sharp rebukes from other women she associates with, but she could be the target of revenge- especially since she refuses to let the matter die.
Eventually, the boiling hot stew of racism, misogyny, injustice, fear, and stress, brings Mary Rose to the brink of madness…
I chose this book for several reasons. One, it was set in Texas in mid-seventies- in Odessa- and because I noticed how well it was received, and because I just had one of those feelings- like the book was calling me.
My instincts paid off- but this book was far more impressive than I had anticipated. In fact, I’m not sure my review could do this book justice.
When Mary Rose lays eyes on the battered Gloria Ramirez, she sees the hard, cold truth about her environment, she fears for her daughter’s future, and knows that someone has to speak up for Gloria, that someone has to fight for her, because evidently, no one else will.
Yet her determination to see justice done, to testify to what she saw and experienced that fateful day when Gloria came to her home, will place her in a very dangerous position, heightening her distress, but never beating back her courage. Still, her constant worry takes a toll on her mental state, the pressures and internal turmoil eventually reaching a breaking point.
The author absolutely nails the atmosphere of Odessa: The seclusion, the attitudes, the climate, and the economical tension bubbling beneath the surface-while exquisitely capturing an era of time where women are mere extensions of their husbands, where their jobs are to be someone’s wife and someone’s mother.
The accurate divide between class and race is vivid, and painfully drawn as are the stellar characterizations. Besides, Mary Rose, whose husband is often away and who is pregnant with her second child, her neighbor Corrine, a recent widow, instantly wins my respect. The two women form an unlikely bond, sharing the same feelings of frustration. I loved the way Corrine protected Mary Rose and stuck up for her, keeping a watchful eye on her.
Debra Ann, a child whose mother abandoned her, and who is left mostly to her own devices, is also a vibrant character who befriends a homeless war veteran.
Each character has an internal dialogue, giving the reader a personal and intimate look at their thoughts, revealing their hopes, fears, regrets, and longing. It is easy to lose oneself in each of these narratives, which are like vignettes inside a broader story. This strong feminine cast shines brilliantly against the stark, gritty reality of the old dusty oil town, and will leave an enduring imprint on my soul.
Overall, this is a gritty, compelling, and powerful debut. It is unflinching, no holds barred, driving home a clear message that will resonate with many readers and women who still fight against a system that favors ‘good ole’ white boys, who come from a good family’. Trust me, the author knows and understands this landscape intimately. The love/hate emotions for Odessa and Texas is palpable, and although I’ve never made it that far west, on many days, that conflict is a feeling I know all too well.
Yet, despite the stormy, and nearly unbearable, suspense, there is also an undertone of sensitivity, too. The writing is splendid- goose-pimply good- drawing comparisons to some heavy hitters in Texas literature. This one earns a top spot on the 2020 favorites list!
Hitting the recommend button on this one!! READ THIS BOOK!
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