White's modern allegory on spiritualism and desire has a contemporary twist that centers on Texas twins Yvette and Yvonne, who in 1952 Denton spend their lives escaping from the sins of their Southern childhood. The girls have tried their best to cope with the arrival of Daddy's new beau, Bobbie Jean, "a Texas gal herself." The girls are real Texas beauties with blonde hair, long legs and high breasts. While Yvette, a natural bookworm, descends into her own world, Yvonne--who narrates White's tale--likes to read women's magazines, especially articles about European nobility and Paris fashion. Bobbie Jean really knows "how to play Daddy. She'd figured out that as a teenager he'd suffered because his parents were the poorest people in town... they couldn't afford anything."
Bobbie Jean keeps hammering on about "us girls." How Yvette and Yvonne deserved every opportunity money could buy. Six months later, they're living on the portico-columned Turtle Creek White House. Yvette proves to be a brilliant student, while Yvonne just wants to have fun, to be popular in school and belong to "the Crowd," the neat kids: "I thought with our money and my looks and smarts I could go far, even become a baroness, you might could smile at my social ambitions as a teen."
White's heroines will seek out two remarkably different paths. Yvonne wants to be a rich woman in Junior League doing charity work for little white cancer victims: "I prayed God to let me be young while I was young, to walk in rain." She wants children and a husband --an aristocrat whose worth is guaranteed by a long noble lineage: "I want to move to Paris. And work for Monsieur Givenchy." An intellectual rebel, Yvette disdains the concept of a traditional path, unwilling to accept Bobbie Jean's imprecations. She also seems to be deeply closeted and has begun redefining herself through her Catholic faith as a bold, curious young woman with independent thoughts. Meanwhile, in Paris, Madame de Castiglione, a survivor and a war hero, connects social-climbing Yvonne to her handsome nephew, antiques dealer Baron Addy.
Addy sets Yvonne up (with her money) in a beautiful big apartment just two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe on "the most expensive street in the world." Yvonne is thrilled and troubled by Yvette's letters, by her way of anticipating every thought ahead of time as well as every objection and assent. For the first time, she realizes that Addy likes her for her money alone. She feels as insignificant as she did when she moved from Ranger to Dallas as a "hick with strange turns of speech." Yes, Addy had given her a chance, but Yvonne's world is fragile with Addy, an "inconvenient stranger," at the center.
That Yvonne is living a lie gradually becomes obvious to her as the years pass and she finally acknowledges how inexperienced she was about the codes of this ancient capricious world she's joined. At first, her lover Ercole is reassuring, perhaps because he's older and the heir to an ancient title. He's also rich enough to be indifferent to her wealth. Clinging to her monastic life in Columbia, Yvette dances between her fantasies for her friend, the rubbery, placid Mercy, and Bishop Oscar, to whome she confesses her attraction to her best friend.
Though both sisters have moved as far away from "Daddy" as they can get--to Colombia and to Paris--neither sister nor baroness are completely at home with their surroundings. Yvette lives an alternative life but somehow it is not genetically identical. Neither sister is ever completely alone. White revels in the grotesquerie of this family dysfunction, especially Yvonne, the unhappy bride who acknowledges that she married a foolish, odious spendthrift and that his parents were the purest expression of French bigotry. Though the novel moves slowly and is sometimes stuffy and self-important (not one of the most entertaining of White's outings; I actually had difficulty finishing it), the author captures the interior lives of both sisters through Yvonne's first-person narrative and Yvette's exotic letters.
The sisters grow older. Yvette moves through the twin worlds of rage and reality, finally forced to confront the terrible secret of her father's sexual abuse. Yvonne becomes a detective, burrowing deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding her sister's life. Eventually Yvonne must face her own feelings about her sister, her father, her wasteful, improvident husband, and most importantly herself.