Not Hallmark’s Holiday: Elizabeth Wetmore’s “Valentine”

It’s hard to believe that Valentine is Elizabeth Wetmore’s first novel. Not just because of the book’s remarkable quality, but mostly due to Wetmore’s incredibly impressive resume. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, has received a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, was a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and has had her fiction published in Epoch, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, and Iowa Review, among others. She was a household name without ever having written a full-length novel.

And then she published Valentine. 

When I hear the word Valentine, I think of pastel-colored candy hearts and little red notes and chocolate kisses. But you will not find any of that in Wetmore’s novel. This is just the first readerly assumption that she turns inside out. Set in a small oil town in Texas, the novel follows none of the rugged oil patch workers you might expect to dot its pages. Instead, it is a women’s story. It is a story of a brutal assault and the subsequent fallout, told from the perspective of five female characters. Each character within the story is markedly different: of different races, ages, classes, stages of life. They each have different motivations, needs, fears and desires. In another writer’s hands, a story told from such varying perspectives might feel disjointed, messy. It is here that Wetmore displays her undeniable skills: creating a cohesive narrative that transcends its many voices. A narrative that not only tackles the violence, racism, and sexism at the heart of this story, but that does so with tenderness and credibility. A narrative that shows us five fully formed women working out how to survive amidst the harsh landscape that surrounds them.

Forthcoming April 2020.