Book Review: Alabama Jane Brown's
Sinner from the South
By G. Steven Henry

Cite as 4 Litigation Commentary & Rev. 322 (November/December 2012)

Alabama Jane Brown has established herself as a literary artist with her first novel about a murder and its defense. In Sinner from the South (Editio Publishers, $15.95), Brown tells a story that spans several decades, from the turbulent South of the 1960s through present day. The novel is told in first-person by Kitty Bankhead, whose lower middle class family's claim to fame is its relationship to actress Tallulah, a cousin.. In the beginning, Kitty's life is that of a small town teenager in Hopewell Springs, Alabama, whose gregarious, fearless best friend is a similarly situated youth named Dale Marie. Their progressive beliefs conflict with their surroundings where the waning days of the racially charged South are finally giving way to integration. The two of them welcome the changes. They are teens full of life and hope until Kitty finds herself in the unwanted clutch of her pastor, Glen Duvall, the novel's antagonist, following an ill-fated day helping with a charity event. Duvall, whose demons outnumber those against whom he preaches, rapes Kitty at a site where he has ravaged a number of the community's women, including his own parishioners. Kitty is the first not to be blindfolded as Duvall views their relationship to have a higher calling.

Kitty kills Duvall at the scene of his crime, but she does not understand the nature of her act within its setting or the relative value of the self-defense she undertook. From there, she and Dale Marie seek to hide the evidence of Kitty's act. The following morning, Kitty's father dies, and her mother begins to lose touch with reality. Not known at the time are the origins of those events. The story then follows Kitty's affected journey through adulthood.

The novel eventually clarifies life for Kitty, both past and present, through a series of diary entries prescribed to her by a nun for their therapeutic value. These entries, as is the rest of the novel, are written with meaning and purpose, reminiscent of the works of Faulkner and the playwriting of O'Neill. Brown does not follow a formula or utilize contemporary shortcuts but rather creates in most of her prose an eloquence missing among most frequently published authors common to the best seller list. Much of her sentence structure and syntax is deserving of second consideration as the novel is read. It is literature and not simply writing.

Ultimately, after decades of Duvall's Cadillac being submerged in a river by Kitty and Dale Marie, an investigation is reopened after the car is exposed by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, whereupon Kitty employs a lawyer named Rappaport, whose defense theory is never required to be presented. Duvall's victims come in force to Kitty's defense. It is also a crime without a body, thanks to Kitty's father. With her innocence established, angels give her life back, from the point it spiraled, making Kitty's existence itself innocent once again.

Sinner from the South is an excellent read. Though her use of metaphors early on is unnecessary given the quality of her writing, and notwithstanding one sequence mentioning heroes during Kitty's early years that includes famous women not then known, Brown excels at her art.

On a personal note, I met Alabama Jane Brown when I was twelve years old. Then Patti Jane McGee, she was one of a group of seventh grade girls that defined our own years while coming of age. Patti was always the more refined and mature of the group, deeper in thought and full of confidence. Her writing exudes that same confidence, and I congratulate her on this novel and wish her the best in her future literary work.