Rage Against the Cliché: Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore

Sometimes, it’s just really hard not to be disgusted with the human race.

Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel, “Valentine” is fiction. But, it’s really not. You just know that even though these particular characters come from Wetmore’s imagination, the story she tells with them has happened somewhere. To someone.

Odessa, Texas and its surrounding oil fields in the early 1970s are the backdrop for this gutwrencher of a story. A place with fortunes rise and fall with oil output and barrel prices. Where men from all over the country come to make a quick buck doing the dangerous work involved operating refineries.

And of course, not all men were brought up to respect anything, let alone women and minorities.

14-year-old Gloria Ramiréz is representative of more than one girl looking to take a risk that’ll shake up the daily doldrums and maybe even piss off her mother just enough to get her attention. The consequences of one bad decision leave her open to every cliché lobbed at a victim of assault — she asked for it, she’s lying, it didn’t happen that way, it was just an argument, he tripped and fell … he’s such a nice boy. So upstanding. A pastor’s son.

Mary Rose Whitehead isn’t the first teenager to have a shotgun wedding before her high school graduation. And neither is Ginny Pierce. Their stories, of one who stayed and tried to evolve the cliché and one who fled to escape it, have a rippling effect on the children they bore, Aimee and Debra Ann.

And then there’s Corinne Shepard. Here’s the character I want to have a drink or two with. The OG when it comes to cliché busting. The one who said, “I love my baby but I also love my sanity and I need to work.” Her grief is a devastating thread and the reason I kept turning pages, rooting for her to emerge on the other side.

Wetmore paints a vivid picture of living in a dustbowl town and the extremes women go to to save themselves and their children. Suzanne Ledbetter isn’t the first person to sell both Avon and Tupperware, but damn is she isn’t one of the most persistent. It’s poignant, sad, real and maybe a little hopeful, but yeah — if you are in a man hating mood, this will not make it any better.

Godspeed, Glory. In my head, you are already in your mama’s arms.

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