White, Edmund. “A Saint from Texas”, Bloomsbury, 2020.
Almost every summer, I look forward to reading something new from Edmund White and it is always a highlight of my literary experiences. This summer was no different with “A Saint from Texas”, White’s new novel that tells the storyof twin sisters, one set for Parisian nobility and the other moving toward Catholic sainthood.
Yvette and Yvonne Crawford are twin sisters who were born on an East Texas prairie. Their destinies turned out to be dramatic and we are with them as they follow them. Each girl has secrets and dreams which will take them from Texas and from each other. As the years pass, Yvonne becomes a member of the elite of Parisian society while Yvette enters to a lifetime of worship and service in Jericó, Colombia. Even though, they are separated, and live very different lives, they share the bonds of family and the past.
Beginning in the 1950s and taking us to the recent past, these two Texas women’s lives are bound together even though they are very different from each other. From the newly rich of Dallas, the society of Paris and Colombian convent, we see the lines of class and sexuality.
Edmund White explores love, sex and family over 50 years bringing the non-believer and the totally-committed to God together and we share their lives. Yvette and Yvonne are finely-drawn characters and we sense White’s sympathy for them. He explores sin and envy, in-depth, through them.
This is a story about us as well. As the sisters find themselves through losing themselves, so do we. We have human love and divine love alongside of passion and sin and desire. As the novel moves forward, secrets come to the fore and revelations explode on the pages It is White’s wit and irony that makes “A Saint from Texas” so wonderfully readable.
The storyis told from Yvonne’s perspective and as she tells about her life (through letters to her sister), she also tells the story of Yvette. Yvonne went to Paris in college and married a Baron there. Yvette converts to Catholicism and becomes a nun.
In a world of morally corrupt and unlikeable characters, Yvette is able to maintain some decency even with the difficult life she has led. Her timidity and self-effacing and both sisters ultimately become being sex-obsessed. Since they are from a very homophobic part of Texas, we would expect them to be bothered by desires for other women but they are not.
I thought that this was going to be quite a light read so I was surprised that it is much more than that. Collections of stories make up the plot and as I hinted, the characters are strange. Each sister searches for her own sense of perfection and we see that faith drives Yvette while Yvonne is by status. They both mature when they realize that there is no such thing as perfection. This is, in effect, a comedy of manners and I was totally and completely drawn into it— so much so that I read it from cover-to-cover in a single day. Since I am a huge Edmund White fan, this is not surprising. The clashes between cultures are hilarious while, at the same time, explore the characters. There were moments that my feelings toward the twins bordered upon love and disdain. Their experimentations with them themselves teach them about who they are.
There is a lot to think about as we read making this an intellectual experience to a degree. While the pace, at first, seems swift do not be surprised if you find yourself stopping to think several times. We root for the sisters as they face societal demands of conformity and subservient women.