Skip to main content

The Saints and Sinners of Okay County


The Saints and Sinners of Okay County

The seeing started for Aletta Jacobs when she was just eight years
old. Tessie Jones Maple, an elderly African-American woman from
Okay County, would visit Aletta in her bedroom at night. Then there
was Isabella from Italy. Both Tessie and Isabella had the same
message for little Aletta --- that she was special and not to let
others belittle her powerful gift. That Tessie and Isabella were
long dead did not disturb Aletta. She found comfort and peace in
their voices and in their messages. Aletta could see someone's
past, their secrets and their futures just by touching their hands,
an ability she quickly learned to hide from a fearful, skeptical

The daughter of a well-known Oklahoma farming family, Aletta's
world was ruined overnight when her father Clovis and Uncle Joey
were shot to death by Johnny Redding, an angry ex-employee. Fast
forward three decades to 1976 and pretty Aletta is married to Jimmy
Honor, the high school jock star who has lost nearly everything
except his rebel yell, love for the bottle, and lust for other
women. How Aletta allowed herself to have three children
(and one more on the way in a month) with this handsome cad is the
age-old question that has haunted so many broken American
marriages, and books.

First-time novelist Dayna Dunbar artfully creates the confounding
duality of Aletta, the strong woman awash in unfortunate
circumstances in the Dust Bowl at the bicentennial. Celebrations
and parades abound as Jimmy takes turns strangling vodka bottles
and his wife, while professing his undying love for the three
children he and Aletta share. In the chaos of brutal domestic
fights, pointless drinking, infidelity, unpaid bills and an ocean
of children's tears, Aletta is comforted by hairdresser neighbor
Joy and other friends who condemn Jimmy and urge Aletta to take
charge of her life and protect her kids.

Shedding her desire to suffer quietly, Aletta is forced to contend
with a past she could not change and the future she must control by
using her psychic power to earn money. At just $5 a reading, Aletta
proves herself to the local community as the real thing.
But, as life seems to be looking up, Aletta finds that her battles
have only just begun: Jimmy sloshes back into the house, Aletta's
bitter mother Nadine betrays her, the bible thumpers from Burning
Bush Battle Church label Aletta a sinner, angry protests are held
on the front lawn, and the feelings of loss for her father come
roaring back to challenge Aletta's loosening grip on her own

If this isn't enough, Aletta must contend with a newborn, a biker
gang, local cops, a high school pal who has turned to Hinduism,
lots of gossip, and a bunch of reporters who find a psychic reader
the most interesting thing to come along in years.

Evoking the troubles that make hit country songs, the author
delivers just a few harsh twangs in her prose: "I can live with
most anything, but not with lies," "…the language they used
was as hard as the liquor," "Her mother poured water over her hair
like a liquid hug," "…inside there were wings starting to
grow on her heart." Nevertheless, Dunbar has created an insightful,
heartbreaking and, at times, humorous look at the woman as victim
in the desolate land of good ol' boys.

If Oprah still picked new novels for her Book Club, THE SAINTS AND
SINNERS OF OKAY COUNTY would ring across the land, true as a dinner

Reviewed by Brandon M. Stickney on January 23, 2011

The Saints and Sinners of Okay County
by Dayna Dunbar

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345460391
  • ISBN-13: 9780345460394