Odessa, Texas is pretty much the armpit of Texas, or would be if oil gushed out of your armpit. It’s the 1970s and the area is booming. Newcomers are hoping to make their fortune in the oil field, and many are out of control. The waitresses at the local restaurants know to leave their shifts in groups. But one evening, Gloria, the daughter of Mexican migrants, is savagely assaulted and is only saved by knocking on the door of a young mother several miles away. She begins the story, and it is continued by a series of other women and girls, each struggling to be heard. Particularly affecting is Debra Anna, a young neighbor that befriends a PTSD-stricken vet living in a nearby drainage pipe. These two stories and several others collide in a tense climax, but I think the plot is outshined by the hard-edged writing (no quotes, Cormac style), vibrant characters, and keen sense of place. Desolate? Absolutely. But there’s just enough hope here to keep you reading Valentine, a truly powerful novel.— Daniel Goldin
Ready or not, here it comes! Valentine will grab you, make your eyes stop in their tracks, and then push you until the pages run out. The 1970s West Texas town of Odessa is a hard world. The land is hard, so flat and long under an endless sky that distances don't make sense. It's covered with pumpjacks drawing oil from everywhere and filled with a pervasive, oily smell. People's words are hard too, piercing and often unforgiving. The novel opens with fourteen-year-old Gloria down on that hard ground at dawn after being viciously assaulted, looking up at the roughneck who did it, while he sleeps it off in the front seat of his pickup. She'll walk, badly injured, for three miles to the only house in sight, where Mary Rose Whitehead and her daughter Aimee Jo will open the door to her. Mary Rose will sometimes wish she'd left it closed, but she sure as hell wasn't gonna let this guy finish Gloria off. So begins the stories of several women and girls in the orbit of this crime, a time and place where they've all heard nasty comments about girls like Gloria Ramirez, and they've all been given cheerleader uniforms before they were out of diapers. They'll play the game of smiling sweetly for the men, to a point, but don't count them out. They're not giving in, and they'll keep moving on, and, yes, there are some good men involved, too. Wetmore's writing style fits them so perfectly it's stunning. An absolutely amazing debut. Get ready!— Tim McCarthy
April 2020 Indie Next List
“Before starting this book, you should block out the next 24 hours on your calendar because you will not be able to do anything else. Valentine is reminiscent of Disappearing Earth in its multi-voice portrayal of the vulnerability, resilience, solidarity, fury, and tenacity of girls and women in the man’s world of oil-booming West Texas in the 1970s. These unforgettable characters are the spiritual sisters of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights. I was haunted by them, I rooted for them, I’ve been them, and I won’t forget them.”
— Rebekah Shoaf, Boogie Down Books, Bronx, NY
An instant New York Times Bestseller
Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!
"A thrilling debut that deserves your attention." –Ron Charles, the Washington Post
Written with the haunting emotional power of Elizabeth Strout and Barbara Kingsolver, an astonishing debut novel that explores the lingering effects of a brutal crime on the women of one small Texas oil town in the 1970s, longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the VCU Cabell First Novel Award.
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.
About the Author
Elizabeth Wetmore is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Iowa Review, and other literary journals. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, as well as a grant from the Barbara Deming Foundation. She was also a Rona Jaffe Scholar in Fiction at Bread Loaf and a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and one of six Writers in Residence at Hedgebrook. A native of West Texas, she lives and works in Chicago.
“A thrilling debut. . . . Like Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, Valentine is a story about how women—particularly women without much education or money—negotiate a culture of masculine brutality. This is the story of their lives in a backwater oil town in the mid-1970s, which Wetmore seems to know with empathy so deep it aches. . . . Carefully wrought and emotionally compelling.” — Washington Post
"A monument to a sort of singular grace, and true grit." — Entertainment Weekly
“Valentine, Elizabeth Wetmore’s fierce and brilliant debut novel, is set in Odessa, a rough-edged West Texas town built on cattle and oil. It evokes the physicality of the place with a visceral power that recalls Cormac McCarthy, and sets out its cultural ambience and mores with the ironic clarity of Larry McMurtry. This literary landscape has been defined by men as surely as the reality it represents. Wetmore sweeps them to the sidelines, defiantly and confidently claiming West Texas for the women and girls. . . . Valentine joins the best Texas novels ever written.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Excellent. . . . Tense and riveting. . . . D.A. emerges a gritty, welcome addition to American literature’s pantheon of young heroines. . . . Wetmore, a native of West Texas and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, offers with her first novel a harrowing narrative of a region she knows well, described with precision and passion.” — Associated Press
“Exceptional. . . .Wetmore, like Harper Lee before her, has little interest in preserving the illusions of people who believe that justice and love will always prevail. . . . an incredibly moving and emotionally devastating piece of work that heralds great things from Wetmore.” — Houston Chronicle
"Wetmore’s characters offer perspectives that cross generations, socioeconomic classes and races. Yet all characters serve to showcase the resilience of women and the power that comes in deciding the direction of one’s own story." — San Francisco Chronicle
“Gripping and complex. . . . Wetmore’s delight in language enlivens every page. . . . With its deeply realized characters, moral intricacy, brilliant writing and a page-turning plot, Valentine rewards its readers’ generosity with innumerable good things in glorious abundance.” — Chicago Tribune
"Valentine shines with strong characters, some sympathetic, others detestable, and a complex plot with narrative threads smoothly knitted together." — The Missourian
“Fierce and complex, VALENTINE is a novel of moral urgency and breathtaking prose. This is the very definition of a stunning debut.” — Ann Patchett
“It is nearly impossible for me to believe that Elizabeth Wetmore is a first-time novelist. How can a writer burst out of the gate with this much firepower and skill? VALENTINE is brilliant, sharp, tightly wound, and devastating. Wetmore has ripped the brutal, epic landscape of West Texas out of the hands of men, and has handed the stories over (finally!) to the girls and women who have always suffered, survived, and made their mark in such a hostile world. These are some of the most fully realized and unforgettable female characters I’ve ever met. They will stay with me." — Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of City of Girls
“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.” — Bookpage (starred review)
“Stirring. . . . Wetmore poetically weaves the landscape of Odessa and the internal lives of her characters, whose presence remains vivid after the last page is turned. This moving portrait of West Texas oil country evokes the work of Larry McMurtry and John Sayles with strong, memorable female voices.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A searing, propulsive debut. . . . Through these alternating narratives, Wetmore tells a powerful story of female anger, a repressed rage against systematic sexism and racism ready to explode. . . . From its chilling opening to its haunting conclusion, this astonishing novel will resonate with many readers.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Drawing comparisons to Barbara Kingsolver and Wallace Stegner, Wetmore writes with an evidently innate wisdom about the human spirit. With deep introspection, she expertly unravels the complexities between men, women, and the land they inhabit. Achingly powerful, this story will resonate with readers long after having finished it.” — Booklist
“My goodness, what a novel. I clutched this book in both hands and by the end I could feel the dust of West Texas on my skin. Elizabeth Wetmore understands the nuances of the human heart better than almost any writer I’ve read in recent years, and I rooted for these women with everything I have. There is violence here, and despair, but in the end the story is a testament to quiet courage, to hope, to love. Every person should read this extraordinary debut.” — Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes
“Elizabeth Wetmore shows us the vivid and complex culture of Odessa, Texas. The women in this book move through their difficult lives with strength and surprising grace. The landscape and characters are rendered with precise and lyric prose. Valentine is a beautiful book written with compassion, understanding, and deep honesty. A remarkable debut.” — Chris Offutt, author of Country Dark
“In Valentine, Elizabeth Wetmore cracks open West Texas and lays bare what beats inside: a world at once ferocious, fragile, and furious, where women and girls fight menace from every fanged quarter—land, animal, human. But fight they do, for themselves, for each other, for what’s right. Wondrously, amid the sorrow, Valentine thrums with the most staggering beauty, a compassion and tenderness as vast as the sky. You’ll read this book like a letter from a lost love, clutched in your hands, heart in your throat. You’ll carry it with you forever.” — Bryn Chancellor, author of Sycamore
"In outstanding prose, Wetmore has created a handful of extraordinary women out of the dust of West Texas, 1976. They are all so real, with their hard lives lived with absolute humanity. Valentine is both heartbreaking and thrilling, I loved it." — Claire Fuller, author of Our Endless Numbered Days