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OUR LADY OF THE FOREST by David Guterson Kirkus Star

OUR LADY OF THE FOREST

By David Guterson

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41211-5
Publisher: Knopf

A young pothead has visions of the Virgin Mary, and all hell breaks loose in this witty fable of faith, greed, purity, and hope from the bestselling author (Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994, etc.).

She’s not exactly St. Bernadette, but Ann Holmes is a decent girl, especially considering her bad start in life. The illegitimate daughter of a teenager, Ann grew up poor and ran away from home at 14 after her mother’s boyfriend began raping her. Now she’s an itinerant farmworker, residing in a state campground and eking out a living picking wild mushrooms in the rain-soaked forests near North Fork, Washington. A devout Catholic who never goes anywhere without her catechism and rosary, Ann is considered something of an oddball by the other campers, but she makes several friends, including fellow runaway Carolyn Greer, an active doper with none of Ann’s religious sensibilities. When Ann confides in Carolyn that she thinks she has seen the Virgin Mary in the forest one morning, Carolyn tells her flat-out that she’s either tripping or nuts. They go to see whether the local priest can make any sense of the situation. Father Collins is an unlikely spiritual advisor; he lives in a trailer park, reads Travel & Leisure on the can, and rarely wears a collar. Skeptical but sympathetic, he encourages Ann to bring him reports of these apparitions as they take place. Naturally, word gets out, and Ann soon has a large cult of followers. Their demand that a church be erected on the site of the visions causes problems with the local bishop (whose investigating commission considers Ann deluded) and the local timber company (which owns the forest). It also makes life even worse for Ann, who never wanted to be the leader of anything.

Sharp and incisive without a trace of either cynicism or credulity: a clever take on a familiar fable of redemption.