Hope And Glory:
Racism, sexism and class come to a boil in the small West Texas town of Odessa, where Elizabeth Wetmore’s powerful debut novel Valentine is set.
The year is 1976, but time has stood still in this hot, arid nowhere town, that has only just come alive due to the oil boom. The book begins with rape and horrific violence inflicted on Glory Ramirez, a 14-year-old Mexican girl, by a drunk white American man, Dale Strickland. After he has passed out exhausted by his own brutality, the girl, gathers up superhuman strength and walks barefoot to the door of Mary Rose Whitehead.
The young pregnant woman, living in an isolated farmhouse, has a small daughter of her own and is appalled by the condition of the girl. When the rapist follows, she points a rifle at him and keeps him at bay till the cops arrive.
The white men of the town close ranks against Glory (who is so affected by what she has suffered that she does not want to be called by her real name, Gloria) and Mary Rose. When she refuses to back down, Mary Rose is threatened and harassed by everyone; even her husband is furious at her for taking the side of a Mexican girl against her own people. The white women actually say how terrible it must be for the boy’s mother to have her son in jail. The court sequence in which Mary Rose testifies before a hostile crowd and an obviously partial judge is harrowing.
The power of money lands hard on the Ramirez family—Glory’s mother is deported, and she has to leave her home with her kindly uncle Victor and spend solitary days in a motel. Her unlikely connection with a white woman lounging by the pool, starts the process of healing for the traumatized girl.
Unnerved by the relentless abusive calls, Mary Rose moves to a home in a more populated area, where her neighbour and supporter is a retired teacher, the recently widowed Corrine Shepard. The older woman has also become unwilling guardian to lonely and fearlessly wild 10-year-old Debra Ann Pierce, whose mother Ginny ran away from home. Debra Ann befriends a damaged ex-soldier, Jesse Belden, who lives in a drain pipe, driving the story to its cathartic climax in the midst of a sandstorm,
Valentine is not an easy read—what the women go through is infuriating and depressing– but it is also uplifting in a way, because kindness, courage and hope exists amidst such rampant cruelty. As the waitress in the local pub observes, “Keep your eyes peeled for the next serial killer,” when the oil fields attract all manner of hell-raising riff-raff to Odessa. In that toxic atmosphere of machismo, the women have very little choice… between silence and doom.
By Elizabeth Wetmore