Rules are made to be broken by the brilliant. It is Edmund White’s narrative brilliance that allows him to break the inviolable First Commandment of writing classes, 'Show, don’t tell,' and give us the divinely well-told tale of identical twins who set out to answer the question: Can Texas be transcended? ... White’s miracle is how he manages to deliver an epic that covers five decades, several precisely observed cultures and a host of indelible characters in a little under 300 pages. The same story, in less skilled hands, could have easily lumbered in at twice the length ... White’s tale is exactly like a stroll through Le Jardin des Tuileries — if the garden had been planted with land mines instead of tulips ... The reader, while happily distracted by remodeling minutiae or, say, a vivid description of a meeting of the Knights of Malta, will blithely stumble upon one of White’s booby-traps and kablooey: A shocking new plot point explodes, vaulting the story forward, soaring over what might typically have been endless pages of setup, along with the sweaty palms, welling tears and lurching hearts employed to 'show' a character’s emotional state. Instead, White pays us the ultimate compliment of assuming we can connect the dots on our own ... The rocket fuel that propels these abrupt plot twists past the slightest suspicion of implausibility is the author’s trademark narrative virtuosity and high-octane erudition. It is not surprising that White, a renowned Francophile and author of biographies of Jean Genet, Marcel Proust and Arthur Rimbaud, can capture French culture with ironclad authority ... Always an anthropologically acute observer of cultural footprints and foibles, White reserves his sharpest satirical barbs for the most deserving targets: the French aristocracy, racists, frat boys, social climbers, fortune hunters and 'terrible Texas Baptists' with their 'shallow, bigoted, self-satisfied religion!'.
... a salacious romp ... If Yvonne’s navigation of pompous hostesses and kinky suitors reads like an enthrallingly lurid tell-all, White might even be said to have gifted his narrator with a queer critical eye for blue-blooded hypocrisies ... White shrewdly traces the repercussions of their choices across the decades. At once in thrall to the shimmering artifice of glamour yet also incisive about the tragedy of human existence, A Saint from Texas is a worldly-wise delight.
In this comedy of manners, White immediately subsumes the reader in time and place, his distinctive voice claiming us from the first page, leaving me chuckling, shaking my head in admiration ... While White’s novel is a comedy of manners—the multiple, ongoing culture clashes are laugh-aloud funny—it is also a deep dive into character. The twins are complete in their rendering on the page, and their development is simultaneously a joy and a calamity ... Yvonne’s often bawdy voice belies a lifelong battle between the superficial and creeping self-awareness, which White balances exquisitely; while Yvette’s crucible and abnegation are rooted in tragedy, a guilt not her own ... Despite the page count, A Saint from Texas is not a quick read, due to extensive blocks of exposition, but it flows evenly and almost flawlessly as Yvonne’s effort to set the record straight and obtain a form of justice for Yvette. I have a quibble involving Texas geography. Ranger is not in East Texas. This would be a small thing, but it arises throughout, Yvonne’s accent repeatedly referred to as an 'East Texas twang.' Her accent is a Texas accent, a twangy accent, but it is not an East Texas accent—there, I feel better now.