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Our Lady of the Forest
ISBN 0375412115 / 9780375412110 / 0-375-41211-5
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David Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest navigates between the mystical and the cynical in its slowly paced telling of a Marian encounter in North Fork, Washington. The story opens in the North Fork campground among homeless mushroom pickers. The town is reeling from the loss of its logging industry, and its residents make their way by scavenging odd jobs and selling the produce of the forest. Living in the campground, 16-year-old Anne Holmes is a runaway asthmatic whose recent interest in Catholicism follows a period of petty thievery, drug use, and frequent masturbation (an interest that Guterson notes is shared by the town priest, Father Don Collins). While off on her rounds of mushrooming one morning, she encounters a bright light--the Virgin Mary, she believes. Soon, she has drawn a band of thousands as people flock to North Fork to witness the vision and be healed. But, through Carolyn Greer, a world-weary fellow-mushroom-picker who longs for nothing more than an extended vacation to "Cabo"-- readers learn that Anne actually sees nothing, or at least no one else shares the Marian apparition that gives Anne lofty commands each day.
At times Guterson lets his characters' pettiness, opportunism, and cynicism overrun the delicacy of Anne's world. Carolyn's vehement atheism and materialistic languor undermine what could have been a stronger counter-point to her spiritual friend. Even Father Collins, who struggles between fatherly compassion and sexual longing for the young visionary, is too full of self-loathing for readers to embrace him. Yet, the novel's exploration of Anne's abrupt and intense faith pierces the narrative and brings light to it. And as Anne's visions grow in intensity and her health begins to fail, one can't help but long for divine intervention on her behalf. --Patrick O'Kelley [via]