As one of the godfathers of gay literature, Edmund White (City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s) has written significantly and beautifully about male sexuality. In the sumptuously imagined novel A Saint from Texas, he takes as a subject female sexuality and how the social taboos against expressing it openly shaped the lives of a pair of Texas belles.
Narrating from the present day, Yvonne de Courcy (née Crawford) recalls her formative years and those of her identical twin, Yvette. Born in East Texas in the late 1930s, they were raised Baptist and ostentatiously wealthy (their father was "lucky with oil"). Self-described Dallas deb Yvonne doesn't pretend that her youthful ambitions were marked by virtue: even as a teenager, she had set her sights on social climbing. Meanwhile, Yvette began slipping off to attend a Catholic church, and from college she made her way to a convent in Colombia. There another nun sparked feelings that altered Yvette's destiny, as she explains in letters to her sister that Yvonne includes in her narrative.
Not lost on Yvette is that her childhood molestation by her father steered her away from men. While Yvonne was spared their father's abuse, she's not much more attracted to the opposite sex than her sister is--"Don't forget that you and I are a little bit gay around the edges," she writes late in her life to her twin. Nevertheless, Yvonne heads to Paris for her junior semester abroad, intending to find a man. She meets the tiresome Baron Adhéaume de Courcy and becomes a "bartered bride"--as Adhéaume puts it, "My title and taste for your fortune." After she uncovers Adhéaume's infidelity, Yvonne lands a boyfriend and creates the opportunity to indulge her attraction to women, never forsaking her baronial obligation to good form: "Three-ways are first and foremost a problem of etiquette--no one should feel left out."
As in White's previous work, A Saint from Texas itemizes the costs--and for Yvette they are especially high--of suppressed sexuality. Readers who prefer novels with something measurable at stake may wish that A Saint from Texas had more of a storytelling arc, but White's filigreed detail work, conveyed through Yvonne's taffeta-touch narration, is amply compensatory. Although A Saint from Texas is plotless, the journey across three continents is breathtaking. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Shelf Talker: In this gorgeously appointed novel, an elderly Texas belle who became a French baroness tells her story and that of her identical twin, whose abuse by their father set her on a spiritual path.