THE SAINTS AND SINNERS OF OKAY COUNTY
Thirty-something Aletta Honor, the protagonist of screenwriter Dunbar's quirky debut novel, is so pregnant she can't fit behind the wheel of her borrowed pick-up truck, and her husband, a drunk, cheating former high school basketball hero, Jimmy Honor, has left her and their three children. Stuck high and dry in Okay County on the Oklahoma plains in 1976 with a stack of bills piling up and no financial windfall on the horizon, Aletta resorts to peddling burnt, homemade kolaches (fruit-topped pastries) and powder-mix lemonade at the Okay Czech Festival parade. This fails, but when she inadvertently saves a woman's life through a psychic vision, Aletta reluctantly reconsiders using the gift of prescience that she first discovered at age eight to save her and her children from destitution. But her unwieldy supernatural powers often seems more of a curse, and she is never quite sure what someone's passing touch might reveal ("She didn't have any control over what came through. All she did was report it"). Her forecasts of future contentment or visions of painful past events unsettle Okay's upstanding citizens and earn her epithets like "Indian witch" and "psychic sorcerer." As Aletta embarks on her new career as a psychic reader, she's ostracized by Bible-thumping neighbors and forced to confront her mother's shame and an indirectly related family tragedy. Dunbar's no-frills writing style, engaging pacing and cast of kooky saints and sinners make Aletta's unconventional story about taking control of her life a pleasant, all-too-rapid read. (Dec .)
Forecast: Comparisons to Billie Letts and Fannie Flagg are apt, and Ballantine's book club promotion targets the right readers—Dunbar's debut could rack up solid sales.
Release date: 12/01/2003