“What a thing an oil boom is for a town. It brings in the very best sort of psychopath.”
Be warned from the start, this book is a difficult journey to embark on. The plot is centered around a violent rape and the ramifications that violence carries with it. And while the topic is handled thoughtfully and gracefully, with no direct description of the act, the aftermath is vivid and Wetmore does not hold back on exploring the full impact such a brutal crime has.
Valentine isn’t solely about that violent act either. It’s a journey into the hearts and minds of the women of Odessa. The ones directly impacted by the crime, along with the ones indirectly caught in the ugly aftermath. And I think this is such an impactful way to tell this story. That this is a crime perpetuated by cultural bias cemented centuries ago that carries consequences and scars far beyond the violence itself.
“I will not apologize for years, and by the time I’m ready to say I’m sorry, every word between us will be a bullet in the chamber.”
Valentine is an unflinching look at what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world. And while this is a woman’s story, told through their eyes, that doesn’t stop Wetmore from holding them accountable as well. The women’s stories are varied, and we go through some of their darkest moments with them. But this isn’t a rambling prose, with extended plot or confusing momentum. This is a necessary undertaking, forcing us to understand the complicated nature of survival.
But Valentine doesn’t tackle survival in the basest sense of the word. When we meet the women of Odessa they are merely surviving. Forging an existence to get through their day-to-day lives. But through trauma, these women individually, and collectively, find their inner strength moving beyond survival and transitioning into actually living. They find reason to fight, learn the power of their voices, and harness the fiercest weapon of all: love. At the end of the day, the message these women bring isn’t about the darkness or violence, but the sheer ferocity of love. How in all forms, it can heal the deepest of wounds.
Beyond the violence, past the darkness, Valentine is a story filled with hope. It’s about finding yourself when you’re lost in grief or rage or despair so deep you can’t see. The prose is hypnotic, lulling us into each perspective with a quiet vividness that is sharp and precise. We feel the difficulty, we struggle through the pain. Wetmore’s writing pulls the emotion into the landscape, each detail of their surroundings adding a layer of depth and nuance that makes you feel each word slice to the bone.
“The horizon goes jagged, and the land turns ruddy and uneven. How lonely it is out there. How lovely.”
Valentine is a powerful story, a testament to the strength of women, and the courage it takes to value hope even when it may seem furthest away. Wetmore takes us through the ravines of emotion with a sure hand, guiding us well past plot and well into the territory of human experience. It’s a stunning debut and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Thank you Harper Books for including me on this tour and sending me this amazing copy!