Book: A Saint from Texas

We’re as good as done with October, and it’s not just Halloween tomorrow, but an actual Blue Moon. So. Buckle up.

It is becoming absolutely necessary to escape from reality these days. There are the rare rays of sunshine, like the Pope announcing he’s chill with same-sex unions. But then there’s the much more malicious tsunami of shit that keeps emerging the second we avert our eyes. The US Supreme Court confirmation. Poland rewinding the clock all the way to the centuries past with their effective ban on abortion. 2020 is being rather a tit for us women, really. Let’s hope the Blue Moon on Saturday will change the course and the remaining two months will be on their best behaviour.

Texas. Will decide the election on 3 November. Have never been, but have certainly heard all the stereotypes. Have been decidedly rather uninterested in the place (except for Dallas – not the city but the TV-series from last century. The one with J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby and Pamela. LOVE.) until the accelerating election polling has crept onto my radar and I just today read how the Texans are voting like there’s no tomorrow.
Warms one’s heart. (Almost) regardless of whom people vote for in democratic elections – the main thing is that they do vote.) Anyway. It’s looking really good, because voter turnout record will likely be broken in the US this year.

Back to Texas. I walked into A Saint from Texas in my favourite Brussels bookstore (Passa Porta) and bought it as a “just in case” -book, as in should I unexpectedly and unprepared run out of reading in the middle of lockdown. This was absolutely not the case, but with the usual reservations (don’t really know the author Edmund White, not too keen on the topic, don’t care terribly much about Texas) I started reading nevertheless.*

And what a joy A Saint from Texas was! First of all it’s written in Texan slang from the 50s. This already makes reading it an absolute treat. The protagonist and the narrator of the book is Yvonne, one of the twin sisters whose stories the novel reveals. The story starts proper when the twins Yvonne and Yvette, from a hillbilly family that came to money because of, obviously, oil, leave to Dallas to study, and follows them throughout their adulthood.

Yvonne longs for a the plush life of European jetset (she takes private French classes in order to prepare for her fantasy life)and eventually marrying into French aristocracy while Yvette finds her calling in religion, eventually becoming a bride of Christ in a convent in Jericó, Colombia. So at face value the sisters have very little in common, though they stay in contact throughout.

The tension between the sisters and their life choices is the glue that keeps the novel together. It is not insignificant that Edmund White, in his 80s, known to be the quintessential gay writer and Vogue’s former Paris-correspondent, runs the parallel voices of an adolescent Texas debutante and her ultra-religious sister as an alter ego of sorts. Some have observed that Yvette is White’s own reflections on how religion has influenced his acceptance of his own homosexuality.

The narrator Yvonne’s voice veers off consistent at times and some characters tend to be superficial parody caricatures (in case you’re not done with Emily in Paris –parody of the French, there are some superbly accurate jabs in A Saint from Texas) (To be fair: White is a renowned Francophile who has written the biographies of people like Proust and Rimbaud, plus he’s actually lived in the country for years, so he’s not shooting from the hip). On the other hand White controls the sprawling story with a masterful hand and manages to cram in not just several decades, but every controversy from incest, sadomasochism, blackmail, death and murder in less than 300 pages.

A Saint from Texas is excellent pandemic reading if you like stories that will teleport you from the current gloom. I will definitely have a look at White’s other oeuvre with great interest.

There’s nothing not perfect in this theme song & video.

*This is the thing about independent bookstores’ brilliance – they curate their stuff so well that you can pick almost anything and it’s bound to be good.

The red lips mask “Twist’n Pout” in the picture is part of a collection of hand-embroidered Covid-masks that I custom-make to raise money for victims of domestic violence in Brussels.
More information about the masks is available on Instagram @inyourface.bxl

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