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Our Lady of the Forest Hardcover – September 30, 2003

2.8 out of 5 stars 113 customer reviews

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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

From Publishers Weekly

When Ann Holmes starts having visions of the Virgin Mary, the bedraggled teen runaway becomes the last hope for the inhabitants of a dank, economically depressed logging town and the hordes of miracle-seekers who descend on it. In this panoramic, psychologically dense novel, she also becomes a symbol of the intimate intertwining of the sacred and the profane in American life. Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars; East of the Mountains), tells the story from the viewpoint of four lost souls groping for redemption: Ann; Carolyn, an aging, overeducated, cynical drifter who takes Ann under her wing to profit from her growing fame; a local priest wrestling with his doubts about, and lust for, the visionary; and a tormented ex-logger trying to atone for the accident that paralyzed his son. Guterson's evocative prose, pithy dialogue and piercing insights cut through the fog of sin and guilt that shadows these wounded characters like the overcast sky of the Pacific Northwest. And as Ann's visions stimulate a tourism boom and draw the attention of media vultures and a skeptical Catholic Church, Guterson explores larger social themes-the demise of blue-collar America; the ironic symbiosis of religious devotion and commercial exploitation; the replacement of faith in God by faith in psychopharmacology; and the link between the exaltation of women's saintliness and the reality of women's degradation. Searching for the miraculous in the mundane, this ambitious and satisfying work builds vivid characters and trenchant storytelling into a serious and compassionate look at the moral quandaries of modern life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412110
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,363,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In contrast to a couple of other reviewers below, I, as a Catholic, found this book to be an amazing feat of poetic, insightful analysis of the tensions that we all strive to resolve in some manner, between the frailty and caprice of our human nature, especially in the area of sexuality, and our desire for greater faith and grace, and between the "Church" as simultaneous institution and living organism.
As a happily married parent of three children and very active in "mainstream" parish Catholic life, having been involved in charasmatic Catholicism and Marian devotional groups, having traveled to Medjugore in the late 80's, having witnessed a supposed "Marian Locutionary" and the surrounding "hoopla" in the Chicago area at about that same time, having seen saints and shams, and having a rather broad knowledge of the various theological, philosophical and mystical topics interjected and alluded to, "en passent," such as Manichean Cosmogeny, Kaballah, and Platonic solids, I thoroughly enjoyed the perceptive character development of the various personalities involved, whom the author uses to embody and present the various elements of conflict. Through these personalities and their encounter with this unfolding apparition and the "visionary," we see our humanity exposed, and the Grace of God working in unusual, subtle and surprising ways in dark and hidden undercurrents.
In the end, we find that God does indeed "work in mysterious ways" and most often in spite of our foolishness and weakness! For the reviewers who accused the author of being "anti Catholic" and too focused on sex, I would say just the opposite. Yes, if you are offended by the laying bare of our human condition, as in the stark portrait offered in Tom Cross, or the "un-priestly" struggle of Fr.
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Format: Paperback
I've seen some other reviews here state in plain terms that the depiction of Father Collins is a stereotype and offensive to the Faith.

I can understand that sentiment, but as a Catholic myself, I disagree with it. Collins is intensely human, first of all, doesn't act on his fleeting thoughts of lust (and they are fleeting, mind you ~ the notion that he's "obsessed" with sex is absurd because he's clearly not). He's just a man, even if he is a priest, so I say give him a break. More importantly, he's a good man, and trying to be a good priest ~ ultimately it's his meek heroism that is among the many miracles in the book.

More importantly, Father Collins recognizes that it doesn't matter whether Ann Holmes saw the Virgin Mary in the Forest or not ~ because regardless of what she did see, Mother Mary was there.

I relentlessly read depictions of the Church in literature and among the hoardes, this is one of the fairest, even-handed handlings of the faith out there. Sure the faithful are rendered as full of pock-marks and Guterson doesn't gloss over anything about their weaknesses and failings. But never once does he stoop to bash the faith. For that I applaud him.
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Format: Hardcover
Yes, this is a novel about faith and religion but it is one of those rare books published these days which can appeal to readers holding widely divergent views on the subject. From one perspective this is an inspiring story of faith and redemption...from another, a cautionary tale of cynicism and greed. And to his credit, the author David Guterson never discloses to the reader his own thoughts or views. His main characters--Ann Holmes, Father Collins, Carolyn Greer, and Tom Cross--are each fully developed and true to life. They are at times humorous, at times irritating, and at times so very, very sad. This is a beautifully written book...even better that Snow Falling on Cedars. And like Snow Falling on Cedars it is one of those books which friends will encourage their friends to read.
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Format: Hardcover
Our Lady of the Forest runs in fits and starts.
This story of young girl who is having visions in the primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest is initially compelling, but then gets more tangled and confusing as it goes along. This is a complicated feat because the novel does not concentrate on an extraordinary amount of characters or themes, yet somehow you find yourself losing your way.
Anne, the "Joan of Arc" of the story, is a well drawn character who we are intensely interested in, despite Guterson's error of giving away most of Anne's tortured background right off. However, her friend, sceptic, and chief disciple is made out to be nothing more than a caricature of her own irony. There is no heart beating there, even though the author bestows her with heavy-handed secular motivations such as wanting to steal from the massive collections to fund her winter in the tropics.
Indeed, all of the characters aside from Anne and Tom Cross, (an unemployed logger who is mean to the core, but obviously searching for healing,) are just mouthpieces to state religious and philosophical questions that anybody with even a freshman Introduction to Philosophy or Theology class already knows. Within the first few pages we get stuff from Aquinas, Pascal's wager, etc. However, the book doesn't go on to illuminate these ideas or fulfill their arguments. Rather, we get long digressions that ultimately prove frustrating, not in their content, but in their context.
The community and the world in which Guterson has set his story is indeed fascinating, but perhaps the book is too short. I had a feeling that Guterson has too many things going on to be accomodated by the brief length. It seems as if the story ends too soon.
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