Bibliophile | ‘A Saint from Texas’ challenges class, sexuality & power

A Saint from Texas
by Edmund White

Yvonne (pronounced Why-von in Texas) and Yvette (pronounced Why-vet) Crawford are twin sisters born in Ranger, Texas – once the oil capital of America before the wells ran dry in the 1930s. Their mother died in the 1950s and their father had millions in oil money in the bank, even though they were living in a house with peeling paint.

The twins are identical in looks alone. Yvonne liked women’s magazines about European nobility and Paris fashions while Yvette was a quiet bookworm with Puritan tendencies. Yvonne wanted to be popular and the anorexic Yvette just wanted to be left alone. While Yvonne was smoking Virginia Slims, drinking beer and making out with boys, Yvette was going to extra church services and tutoring Mexican children in English.

As the years pass, the sisters write to each other and both move as far away from Texas as they can get. Yvonne narrates her adventures as well as she moves to Paris and marries an aristocrat, while Yvette moves into a convent in Colombia and believes that nobility begins with the soul.

Edmund White’s writing is very seductive as the reader is drawn into both the pious and the wealthy lifestyles, and he doesn’t hold back on sexual and romantic possibilities. This is before he plunges the reader into the rotting quagmire of male privilege that has underpinned both their lives since their childhood … and is now ruling their lives in the lifestyles they have chosen.

As the decades roll by, both sisters are visited by infidelity and incest; betrayal and blackmail; sadomasochism and murder. Yvonne quickly learns that “people can summon up only the love that was bequeathed to them” and Yvette realises that “the religious life was all hocus-pocus – designed to protect the rich, harbor lazy, gluttonous nuns and monks, supply fresh-faced boys for priests to groom and sodomize, drug the living and tranquilize the dying.”

But it is the journey that is more important than the destination. While revealing the fascinating lives of the Crawford sisters, White’s narrative oozes with satire. He challenges the boundaries of class, sexuality and power with two lives that appear divergent but are two sides of the same coin.

Lezly Herbert

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