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Elizabeth Wetmore Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Valentine (2020) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Elizabeth Wetmore is a literary fiction author from Chicago best known for her debut novel “Valentine.” Before becoming an author, she worked a variety of odd jobs including painting cooling towers and silos at a petrochemical plant, tending bar, editing psychology dissertations, driving a cab and tutor of English. She has also worked as a classical music announcer and during that time lived in a small wooden cabin in the suburbs of Flagstaff, Arizona. She was born in West Texas and asserts that she is most at home when she is on the side of a mountain, near the sea or in the desert. Elizabeth graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is also a Fellow of the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She also received a Barbara Deming Foundation grant and was a MacDowell Colony Fellow and attended Friction at Bread Loaf as a Rona Jaffe Scholar. In 2015, she was at Hedgebrook as one of the Writers in Residence. Wetmore currently lives with Jorge Sanchez the poet and Hank their son who they are already introducing to classical novels by the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin.

While she currently lives in Chicago, Wetmore has said that she has always felt more familiar with West Texas where she was born and raised. As such, she could easily write about the terrain and the characters given that these were voices that she had lived with most of her life. Nonetheless, she still asserts that it took a lot of work and years of practice to tell the character stories and create complicated characters with the nuance in her novel “Valentine.” Elizabeth Wetmore set the novel in the seventies given that she was about the same age as one of the characters named Debra Ann Pierce in 1976. She felt that she had the perfect perspective of time and place that she could draw from memory in writing the novel. Another advantage of setting the novel in 1976 was that it served the narrative given that it was an era when phone service frequently went out whenever there were storms and there were no cell phones as a backup and this provided a lot of creative freedom. The novel comes with girls and women at the forefront and she has said she was in some way trying to course-correct given that most Texas fiction is traditionally male-dominated. Wetmore asserts that the initial drafts of her novels had a lot of characters and she had to cut out some of the male leads or to reduce their voice. However, she soon realized that she was consciously deciding to tell the conspicuously absent stories of the girls and women of West Texas that most authors never bother to tell.

Elizabeth Wetmore’s “Valentine” is a story set in Odessa, Texas in 1976 at a time when the oil boom was at its peak. Men have migrated into the town from all over the country hoping to find work and make some good money while at it. They are hard-drinking but also hard-working men and this results in all manner of problems for the women in town. At the opening of the novel, an act of violence is perpetrated on a teenage Mexican girl who seeks refuge at the doorstep of Rose. She is in a horrifying condition and Rose is moved to protect her from the man who has done bad things to her and wants to silence her. But upon defending her, she is changing her whole life and that of her family as the young man who attacked her has many defenders among the townsfolk. There is a lot of pressure and Rose also receives threats not to testify in the case as many assert that the girl had been in a disreputable place and hence deserved to be raped. Moreover, she is a Mexican and hence they think that it should not matter what was done to her. Wetmore tells the story from the perspective of the girls and women that are on the side of the girl and try to get her justice. There is also the story from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl whose father is always working while her mother left the home. Just like the Mexican girl, she is playing with fire and when she makes friends with a young derelict man. The novel is exceptional at the rendering of place and time and reading it, the reader feels as they are right there in the Texan town laden with dust. It is a story of women just making their way and living in a world full of violence, which means they have to draw on their strength and more often than not disguise or hide their vulnerability to survive. While it starts with violence, the novel is not a thriller as its themes are all about how women cope with what happens in their lives in addition to the secondary theme of racial injustice.

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