Review: ‘The Saints and Sinners of Okay County’ by Dayna Dunbar

Review: ‘The Saints and Sinners of Okay County’ by Dayna DunbarThe Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar
Published by Random House LLC on 2007-12-18
Pages: 352
Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

In the tradition of Fannie Flagg and Lorna Landvik, The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a heartfelt and compelling debut novel with an unforgettable heroine. It’s the story of a woman whose ability to see the futures of others leads her right back into her own troubled past.It’s the summer of 1976, and it seems like the entire state of Oklahoma is celebrating America’s bicentennial. But in the small town of Okay, Aletta Honor has much more on her mind than flags and fireworks. She’s pregnant with her fourth child and hasn’t seen her husband, Jimmy, in weeks. Although she can guess where the hound dog has parked his red-white-and-blue van—in front of the local gin mill or outside the home of yet another woman for a little Yankee Doodle Diddle. Discretion is not in the man’s constitution.Flat broke and desperate for some cash, Aletta decides to set up a food stand on the front lawn during the Okay Czech Festival. But when a woman touches her hand in sympathy, Aletta is completely unsettled. She never touches anyone outside her family—if she does, she gets overwhelming visions of their lives and futures. It started when she was a young girl and has scared her ever since. Now Aletta immediately sees the woman in a tragic accident, and gives her a warning that will save her life. When the woman returns the next day to thank her, Aletta figures out how to save her own life. With all the courage she can muster—figuring the townsfolk will most likely think she’s nuts—she puts a sign in the front yard: ALETTA HONOR. PSYCHIC READER. DROP-INS WELCOME. But doing readings for people opens a door she thought she had locked long ago, as memories of a terrible event come flooding back. She may not be able to see into her future, but she realizes she must face the demons in her past if she’s going to make a new life for herself and her kids. First, though, she’ll have to tell a few fortunes. . . .Poignant, touching, and full of the kind of wisdom that can only come straight out of the heartland, Dayna Dunbar’s The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a wonderful novel of a woman who confronts pain in order to reclaim her belief in herself, lay her past to rest, and bring order back to a life that has veered too far off track.From the Hardcover edition.

In the tradition of Fannie Flagg and Lorna Landvik, The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a heartfelt and compelling début novel with an unforgettable heroine. It’s the story of a woman whose ability to see the futures of others leads her right back into her own troubled past.

It’s the summer of 1976, and it seems like the entire state of Oklahoma is celebrating America’s bicentennial. But in the small town of Okay, Aletta Honor has much more on her mind than flags and fireworks. She’s pregnant with her fourth child and hasn’t seen her husband, Jimmy, in weeks. Although she can guess where the hound dog has parked his red-white-and-blue van—in front of the local gin mill or outside the home of yet another woman for a little Yankee Doodle Diddle. Discretion is not in the man’s constitution.

Flat broke and desperate for some cash, Aletta decides to set up a food stand on the front lawn during the Okay Czech Festival. But when a woman touches her hand in sympathy, Aletta is completely unsettled. She never touches anyone outside her family—if she does, she gets overwhelming visions of their lives and futures. It started when she was a young girl and has scared her ever since. Now Aletta immediately sees the woman in a tragic accident, and gives her a warning that will save her life. When the woman returns the next day to thank her, Aletta figures out how to save her own life.

With all the courage she can muster—figuring the townsfolk will most likely think she’s nuts—she puts a sign in the front yard: ALETTA HONOR. PSYCHIC READER. DROP-INS WELCOME. But doing readings for people opens a door she thought she had locked long ago, as memories of a terrible event come flooding back. She may not be able to see into her future, but she realizes she must face the demons in her past if she’s going to make a new life for herself and her kids. First, though, she’ll have to tell a few fortunes. . . .

Poignant, touching, and full of the kind of wisdom that can only come straight out of the heartland, Dayna Dunbar’s The Saints and Sinners of Okay County is a wonderful novel of a woman who confronts pain in order to reclaim her belief in herself, lay her past to rest, and bring order back to a life that has veered too far off track.

“The Saints and Sinners of Okay County” was one of those remarkable books that really touched my soul. I always find treasures like this when I pace the aisles at the public library, scanning every shelf for titles that look interesting. I would have never found this book otherwise. I feel like it’s really important that I spread the word about “The Saints and Sinners of Okay County” just so other people can experience this wonderfully written novel.

1970s Oklahoma wouldn’t be my first choice for a book setting but I found myself really interested in small town culture. I assume this is because of my own small town upbringing. Rural Illinois isn’t all that different from rural Oklahoma. In fact, it isn’t any different at all. Everyone knows everyone. Most residents fear the unknown. Any perceived difference marks you as different. My peers marked me as different just for having red curly hair. Really. That’s all it took. For Aletta Honor, the hard-working mother of four, the community marked her for being psychic. As a child, she found out that if she touched a non-family member, she could see into their lives.

After a tragic event, young Aletta pushed her psychic powers aside and pretended they didn’t exist until the Czech festival some years later. Abandoned by her husband and pregnant with her fourth child, Aletta accidentally touches a woman and her powers come flooding back into her life. In a touching account of her story, she uses her psychic abilities to help people in her community as she gains the strength to break her abusive relationship and forgive herself for moments in her past.  Sometimes the addition of supernatural powers into an otherwise ordinary story can create a clearly demarcated line where you have “normal” and “not normal.” It didn’t feel that way in this book. Dunbar writes Aletta’s abilities as such a part of her every day life that they seem completely normal. Even though they were an important part of the story, they were not the main focus. This is a story about forgiveness first and a story about a psychic last. Aletta’s marriage to Jimmy was her own punishment for the sins of her past. Once she realized this, she and her children could move and be truly happy.

I always find it so difficult to write about books that touch me. All I can say is that I connected enough to Aletta to rediscover some of my own secrets and forgive myself for them. I highly recommend this book. It’s not “literary,” per se, but it’s a touching account of a single mom trying to do right by her kids while on a journey to forgive herself and break the cycle of abuse in her marriage. The supporting characters are funny when they need to be, supporting when Aletta needs them, and give enough backbone to the story to round out the image of 1970’s Oklahoma.

five-stars

© 2013 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.