It has taken me awhile to get my thoughts together to write this review. I have went back and forth over my thoughts of this book. There were aspects of Valentine that I liked and appreciated, but others that just didn't do it for me. Valentine sat on my shelf for quite some time before I decided to read it this month. I am not sure what drew me to it other than I was in the mood for something different.
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is set in 1970's small town Texas where oil is currency and the women carry the town on their backs. Fourteen year old Glory Ramirez is brutally raped and beaten within inches of her life. Seeking safety, she walks miles through the hot Texas sun to the closest house miles away. The woman who answers the door, Mary Rose, is forever changed and what happened to Glory haunts her and her daughter for years. This horrific event changes the lives of the women of this small town forever and the ripple effects splinter throughout the town.
For a debut novel, Valentine stands on it's own. Each chapter alternates from a different female character's perspective and the underlying theme of their narratives is how resilient these women are and all that they have endured. I appreciate that aspect of the book and the writing was unique and haunting. The sense of place is so profound with Wetmore's writing that, as the reader, you almost feel a part of this desolate oil town.
What I was not the biggest fan of was how many characters are thrown at the reader and some of them just scratch the surface. I am sure this was the author's intent, but being a fan of character driven novels, I love getting to know characters. Some of these characters felt two dimensional because there just wasn't enough substance to flesh them out.
I also felt like the catalyst for the book, Glory's traumatic rape and assault, became an undertone for the rest of the book. I wanted more Glory. I wanted to hear how she was doing and how her mother dealt with this tragedy. Instead, it is told through the viewpoint of other women in the town. Women who are in a different class than Glory. That part just did not sit well with me and was what conflicted me throughout the book. At some points, I was thinking to myself, what is Glory doing? I understand that Mary Rose had a traumatic experience as well, but her story was almost overkill. Meanwhile, we have fourteen year old Glory trying to come to terms with what happened to her and she almost felt forgotten.
The fact that Glory is a Mexican immigrant and Mary Rose is a white woman doesn't help add to the irony of which characters received the most spotlight. Reviews of this book have touched on the intersectionality of "violence and race, class and region" but it was a bit white-washed. I'm not sure you can claim a book is about race when six of it's seven main characters are white women.
Again, these are my own thoughts and opinions and I am sure my own personal preference with books clouded my judgement on this one. The writing was beautiful, but there were parts of the storyline where I had to make assumptions about what happened because it wasn't laid out enough. It almost felt like a sentence or two here or there could have helped connect the dots more for me. I have seen plenty of rave reviews and this one is currently nominated in the debut novel category for the Goodreads choice awards, so do not let my opinion dissuade you from reading. I encourage you to read and formulate your own opinions.
Maybe it's just me...I wanted to like this one more than I did, but I just...didn't.
Content Warning: rape, physical assault, child neglect, murder