Once upon a time in West Texas

With this first novel telling the story of a teenage rape victim, American writer Elizabeth Wetmore is unlikely to go unnoticed in the coming weeks.

Originally from Odessa, Texas, Elizabeth Wetmore has worked in all kinds of professions: bar waitress, taxi driver, English teacher, freelance editor, classical music presenter … At one time, she was even hired by a petrochemical plant to repaint cooling towers! Regardless, and no matter what job kept her paying her bills, she never stopped writing. Diary pages first, then intrigue.

“After my first marriage ended, I got into the habit of sitting in the garden with a notebook, and what I wrote down then was very autobiographical,” says Elizabeth Wetmore, who now lives in Chicago. But over time, the people I grew up with became characters, and I started to write stories. “News first, then a novel, Glory. On which she worked for almost 14 years and which in the United States quickly gained critical acclaim.

“When I decided it was going to be in Odessa, my hometown, I started doing a little research,” says Wetmore. I achieved two things in this way. The first, that the women there had often been victims of violence, especially during the oil booms. Men came from all over to work on the oil rigs, and some of them were far from being angels. The second, that Odessa had been a deeply racist city in the 1970s. At the time, not being white and living there must have been quite difficult. Glory is therefore not directly inspired by this or that lived fact. Rather, it was the kind of story I read, read, read, and re-read in the newspapers, and which was even worse for women of color. “

The wrong choice

As much to say it right away, the first chapter is hard. Very difficult. Because on the evening of February 14, 1976, Gloria Ramírez, 14, made the mistake of her life: bored to death in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In, she agreed to board Dale’s pickup. Strickland, a rather cute young driller who will immediately take him right in the middle of an oil field located on the outskirts of the city. Yes, the perfect place to rape neither seen nor known for hours a helpless little Mexican girl.

If the man hadn’t ended up falling asleep under the influence of alcohol, Glory would have stayed there. Barely standing on her legs, she nevertheless managed to drag herself to the isolated farmhouse of Mary Rose Whitehead. Which we will soon enter into the head since it is she who, for the duration of a chapter, will resume the thread of the story: her second pregnancy which exhausts her, a badly banged up kid looking for a place to hide, the driller full of anger came to claim it, the providential arrival of help. Then follow the voices of Corrine Shepard, a cantankerous old neighbor still mourning the death of her husband, the intrepid and endearing Debra Ann Pierce, 10, or Ginny Pierce, her resigned mother.

“In the beginning, there was also the point of view of a few men,” says Elizabeth Wetmore.

With the oil industry being a predominantly male environment, I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. But from one version to another, I have come to suppress them, to give voice only to women. Literature from West Texas tends to focus on men, so in my book I made a point of giving more space to women. “

Change of perspective

Elizabeth Wetmore also wanted the plot to take place in the mid-1970s. For the racist character of the time, but also because at that time she was about the same age as the young Debra Ann . Remembering her own childhood, this made it easier for her to give the girl a little more depth and authenticity.

“I thought Debra Ann was going to be the main center of attention,” she says. But over time, the lives of adult women have found more resonance in me. Corrine Shepard, for example. She could only be a minor character, an obnoxious neighbor carried on the bottle. And then she became a kind of beacon, someone needed. It would never have happened if I had written Glory in three or four years. On the other hand, this is one of my problems. I can spend the morning on a single paragraph, only to erase it the next day. In short, I write slowly. “

But since she’s now a full-time novelist, maybe we’ll have the chance to read her second novel soon. Who knows ?

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