Valentine: A Novel
In her debut novel Valentine, author Elizabeth Wetmore examines the far-reaching consequences of a violent crime on a small Texas town. Set in 1976, as Odessa is poised for another oil boom, a fourteen-year-old girl is raped in a secluded area on the outskirts of town. She manages to escape, but her nightmare is far from over. Everyone she knows has an opinion about what happened that night, and many of those opinions are filled with anger and hate for the victim rather than her attacker.
As time passes and justice is sought, tensions begin to boil over. Long-held prejudices are brought to light as each person affected by the crime searches for his or her own version of the truth with little regard for what actually transpired. No two people seem to view the rape the same way, and it isn’t long before metaphorical battle lines are drawn, threatening to divide the town’s residents forever.
Reviewers Shannon and Lisa both read Valentine, and got together to discuss their thoughts and reactions.
Shannon: I picked up this book with extremely high hopes. The synopsis looked intriguing, and I was especially drawn to the idea of viewing the crime through the lenses of the women who lived in Odessa. So often, the female point of view is swept under the rug, so I was ready to dive right into a book that focused exclusively on the perceptions of women. Unfortunately, the novel itself didn’t live up to my expectations, and I ended up struggling to finish it. What were you expecting before you actually started reading?
Lisa: I kind of expected what I got – a tale about the effects of rape culture on a Texas oil boomtown. I didn’t expect the multiple points of view, but I adapted to them readily enough!
Shannon: The novel’s structure turned out to be my biggest stumbling block. I usually love stories told from several points of view, but in this case, the numerous perspectives made it difficult for me to really connect with the book as a whole. The narrative jumped around in time quite a bit, making it impossible for me to understand the chronology of events. As a result, I struggled to keep everything straight in my mind, and ended up feeling frustrated as I read. Don’t get me wrong, the women had very interesting stories to tell. Mrs. Shepherd, in particular, struck a chord with me, but it would have been easier for me to follow the overall plot if the novel had been set up a little differently. How did the structure work for you?
Lisa: It did take me a while to settle into the rhythm of the storytelling. I didn’t mind the varied PoVs this time out, because they all felt decently delineated and distinct. Each woman brings something different to the main story of the novel; the main crime, and their feelings about it are not repeats of one another. Perhaps it was the varied female PoVs that kept me going, or maybe it was the kitchen-sink realism, but I was quite riveted.
Shannon: You make a good point about the distinct personalities of each character really shining through. I love when that happens, and I do give the author props for bringing so many people to life in a way that makes them feel quite real. As I said above, Mrs. Shepherd really stood out; I was drawn to her deep grief over the recent loss of her husband. The author did a stellar job showing her conflicting emotions regarding her personal losses and the crime in question. She’s not a character everyone will gravitate toward, but I found her pretty special. Did you have a favorite character?
Lisa: That worked very well and I did like her, but my favorite character was definitely Glory, who had spirit and a real liveliness about her. All of the women who were central to the narrative were pretty special though.
Shannon: The author had some interesting points to make about societal progress. She doesn’t shy away from pointing out the negative consequences of change, but neither does she seem to advocate for stagnation. Sometimes though, I felt she rammed those points home a bit too aggressively, and I was a bit put off by her obvious fervor. I’m all for passionate explorations of difficult subject matter, but her personal agenda seemed to bleed through into the story a bit too much for my taste. How did you feel about the novel’s overall message?
Lisa: I thought the message was delivered pretty decently. This is a tough story about independent women (and not so independent women) striving for justice, and how it is obtained or not obtained or even obstructed by the others in the story, but I didn’t feel as if I were being preached to.
Shannon: The story is set in 1976, and yet so much of what the characters went through can be applied to the experiences of today’s women. We’re still all too willing to blame the victim, excuse the perpetrator, and bury our collective heads in the sand. I’d like to think we’ve come a bit further as a people, but reading this book reminds me we still have a long way to go before women’s experiences are valued as highly as those of their male counterparts. What are your thoughts on how Valentine compares to contemporary women’s lives?
Lisa: Well, as they say, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same.’ Sadly, I could see many parallels in the experiences of the women in the book to mine and my friends’ experiences in life.
Shannon: I wanted so much to love this book, but its flaws definitely outweighed it’s virtues for me. I expected to have a difficult time reading about the aftermath of rape, but the way the book was written proved more of a barrier than the subject matter ever could. As a result, I’m giving this a C-, a solid premise but poor execution make it something I can’t recommend. What about you?
Lisa: I’ve rated it a little higher than you for the execution and truly impressive and varied character voices, but I still can’t recommend it, mostly because of the stereotypical portrayal of some of the books’ latine characters. I’m giving it a C.