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.
There is a lot to appreciate in Edmund White’s A Saint from Texas: the artful prose, the vivid storytelling, the darkly whimsical tone ... At times the story feels fresh and exciting, unlike anything else you’ll read, but the dense writing can also become cumbersome. Thus, as the story goes on, White wanes in his ability to fully engage the reader. White has masterfully created deeply complex and dynamic characters, though the writing style doesn’t always make it easy to feel wholly invested in their pursuits ... Still, with A Saint from Texas, White skillfully invites readers into an organized mess of a world filled with equal parts deceit and desire. It is a world full of sinners and saints, one that asks us to question what turns some of us into one and some of us into the other.
There’s no obvious Edmund White doppelganger here; instead, his personality is interestingly split between the twins, the book’s two conflicting voices—Yvette bookish and tormented, Yvonne worldly and ambitious. Yvonne narrates their lives with a wit reminiscent of the raconteur behind White’s frothier nonfiction, especially the eye for comic detail ... Yvette’s voice also intervenes in letters and dialogue, and there we find the high style of White’s novels, full of sombre metaphors ... A Saint from Texas makes explicit what was once only hinted at, namely how potent an influence religion has been on the imagination of the quintessential gay writer of our time ... Yvette’s faith is evoked so convincingly because White has all along been writing with his own sense of life’s grace.
... alive with desire and rich with history, and White’s love for his characters is infectious ... Both sides of the story are moving, emotionally tortuous and prurient, highlighted by White’s subtle and tender prose ... explores the deep trenches of each woman’s struggle, and we are forced to consider the differences between worldly and heavenly desire, though one may realize that perhaps there aren’t that many. In this book, love is shapeless and nameless, though its effects can be staggering.
Sex abounds in these pages, with something for everyone—gay, straight, kinky, voyeuristic—all rendered hilariously in its absurd human folly as only Edmund White can. Beautiful sentences spill off the page. Readers will delight in his marvelous asides, characteristically exact vocabulary, and metaphors that make the reader smile ... White has written a double first-person coming of age story replete with sex, dazzling wealth, secrets, and aspirations ... While this is a rollicking story full of memorable characters, there is plenty left unsaid between the lines and abundant of insights to be plumbed in White’s pages.
... sumptuously imagined ... 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.
It’s page-turning stuff. But while the plot holds, the narratorial voice doesn’t. Within a few dozen pages, Yvonne’s East Texas twang evaporates and the sentences become shorter, plainer — sounding, to borrow a phrase of early-Yvonne’s, 'as bland as Quaker Oats' ... White, whose own parents hailed from America’s cowboy state, never seems wholly at ease writing from the point of view of a Texas debutante. At times she is painted as stupid and unobservant, with a poor command of French (she says, at one point, that she never learns to read it); at other moments, she is an astute critic of manners, able to parse complex social nuances via her 'exquisite, idiomatic' and perfectly accented second language ... And although her story is written in the style of a first-person memoir compiled late in life, Yvonne has an implausible memory for mundane details, recounting course by course the tasteless dinners her French landlady, the poor but aristocratic Mme de Castiglione, serves on consecutive evenings during her study year in Paris ... an imaginative, entertaining novel seasoned with penetrating social observation, as one would expect from this beady observer of US and French society. White has consummate control over plot, pace and narrative tension, and if the novel never quite reaches the heights of his greatest books, it makes for a superior sort of beach read.
... a magnificently paired narrative ... White’s portrayal of French nobility — its prejudice, self-obsession, and pathological insecurity — is one of the novel’s signature pleasures, tempered as it is by Yvonne’s suffering at the hands of her spouse and his parents ... At the same time, Yvonne’s power of observation regarding the many cultural differences between Texan and French society is overwritten in a few cases ... That such a delicately balanced novel comes from a writer as experienced as White is no surprise ... no small pleasure in itself, but it might just as well serve as a welcome reminder of — and entry point into — his immense body of work.
Though this high-spirited confection is something of a departure for an author known as a cultural critic and chronicler of contemporary gay culture, it's steeped in White’s ironic worldview and mines both his well-known obsessions (France, the French, their language) and lesser-known ones (Catholicism, convent life, the path to sainthood). And, come to think of it, there are plenty of gay and bi characters, and really eloquent descriptions of genitalia ... brims with wit and style. Proust meets John Irving in this grand and delightful comedy of manners.
White serves up a mesmerizing sensual history ... Bombshell revelations abound when the narrative reaches its boiling point, which White handles with aplomb. Equally tender and salacious, White’s deeply satisfying character study demonstrates his profound abilities.