Our Lady of the Forest

by David Guterson

Hardcover, 2003




New York : A.A. Knopf, 2003.


This novel is about a teenage girl, Ann Holmes, who claims to see the Virgin Mary. A sixteen-year-old runaway, Ann is an itinerant mushroom picker who lives in a tent. But on a November afternoon, in the foggy woods of North Fork, Washington, the Virgin comes to her, clear as day. Father Collins--a young priest new to North Fork--finds Ann disturbingly alluring. But it is up to him to evaluate--impartially--the veracity of Ann's sightings: Are they delusions, or a true calling to God? As word spreads and thousands, including the press, converge upon the town, Carolyn Greer, a smart-talking fellow mushroomer, becomes Ann's disciple of sorts, as well as her impromptu publicity manager. And Tom Cross, an embittered logger who has been out of work since his son was paralyzed in a terrible accident, finds in Ann's visions a last chance for redemption for both himself and his son. As Father Collins searches his own soul and Ann's, as Carolyn struggles with her less than admirable intentions, as Tom alternates between despair and hope, Our Lady of the Forest tells a suspenseful, often wryly humorous, and deeply involving story of faith at a contemporary crossroads.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dotarvi
The style of writing was a bit of a revelation. In a lesser writer the lack of punctuation and capitalization would have been a disaster, but Guterson turned it to a graceful flow of thought, revealing a deeply feeling novel of faith and beauty.
LibraryThing member verenka
The story revolves around Ann and the characters involved in her visitation: a fellow mushroom picker who wants to spend the winter in Mexico, the priest who just questions his faith and the out of work logger who strugges with destiny. The story is told almost distant, matter-of-factly and from
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the characters' perspective. It's not religious nor particularly spiritual or sentimental. She just sees the Virgin Mary. I could see the end coming but I liked it all the same.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
One of those books that we might label “thought-provoking”, and not character driven, or plot driven, but idea driven. It examines a case of Marian visions of a 15 year old runaway in Oregon in 1999. It investigates the nature of miracles and God, and is thoroughly cynical in some places and
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leaning towards mystical and unexplained in others. In many ways it is a complement to, you wouldn’t ever guess it, The DaVinci Code in its pondering the feminine, or rather the absence of it from the Catholic church. My esteem for the author has grown significantly after this book. He is able to produce books so different from each other that it’s hard to guess that they have been written by the same person. Besides, he was born to Jewish parents, and yet, has researched the subject so thoroughly in its theological and sociological phenomena, that you would never guess he is not a Catholic who spent his life contemplating the questions of his faith. I would be cautious about reading it if you are a strong believer, though. It’s critical of clergy too.
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LibraryThing member susabusa
Never got me to really care about the characters. I liked Ann and I thought her interaction with the priest was interesting, but the side story of Tom was annoying and I didn't really care about him. I also never believed that Carolyn was out for anyone but herself. The ending was better than the
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book, but I think I was just glad to be done with it.
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LibraryThing member MeganAndJustin
The style of writing was a bit of a revelation. In a lesser writer the lack of punctuation and capitalization would have been a disaster, but Guterson turned it to a graceful flow of thought, revealing a deeply feeling novel of faith and beauty.
LibraryThing member mbergman
A peculiar story written in a peculiar way by the author of the wonder Snow Falling on Cedars. In this novel, a young runaway sees & hears the Virgin Mary in the Oregon forests, & soon develops a vast following. Both the characters & the plot developments are at times implausible, but it's always
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fascinating reading.
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LibraryThing member LukeS
A close, damp, green, cynical, and very real recounting of a young woman's hallucinating vision of the Blessed Virgin in a rain forest in the Pacific Northwest. The most telling part is the speed with which the faithful gather for this purportedly concrete manifestation. The use of chat rooms and
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Web forums leads to a camper city forming overnight on the site.

Guterson is genuine, vivid, and unblinking in portraying the various players. And the cupidity - both in its lustful and avaricious meanings - shows through in this closely- and well-observed story.
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LibraryThing member kateiyzie
Loved Snow Falling on Cedars, but not this book. A homeless girl "sees" the Virgin Mary. Lots of boring in-betweens.
LibraryThing member hockeycrew
I was hoping for something more along the lines of Snow Falling on Cedars, I didn't get that. Perhaps I'm a skeptic anyways, but I never found any descriptions of visions to be convincing. Perhaps it was ment to be that way. If you want a good David Guterson book, read Snow Falling on Cedars, not
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this one.
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LibraryThing member rexmedford
Guterson is a fine writer....and his previous works have set a high bar. This book was a bit unique in style, and I enjoyed that. However, the characters and storyline were not so gripping, although they were very real and devleped well. This book is not in the same league as "Snow Falling on
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Cedars", but perhaps it was written not to be.....a different effort to be judged differently. A book I will recommend, but a hint to the new reader to expect something new from this author.
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LibraryThing member LisMB
This book was enjoyable and very thought inspiring. I was slightly uncomfortable with the several self intimate parts of the book however. Other than that a great read
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
I picked up this book because it was a price-reduced hardcover, and I thought I might give this best-seller author a try, and quite a disappointment it was. The story is extremely flimsy, and lacks suspense. It read like a mediocre kind of B-movie, somewhat reminiscent of Dream Catcher, but with
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unexpectedly strong religious overtones. Is there anywhere the suggestion that the vision is psychedelic? It could be, why else is the main character out in the woods picking mushrooms (of all things)?

Nothing in the story justifies its development into 320+ pages. A real pain to get through.
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LibraryThing member hobbitprincess
I was intrigued by this book because of the subject matter. I lived in Conyers and indeed even knew the lady who saw the Virgin Mary back in the 1990s. I wanted to see what this author's take on it was. This novel is about so much more than a young girl who has visions, however. It's mostly the
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story of an economically depressed town and some of the people who live there, who are trying to do what they can in a bad situation. When Ann sees her visions, it's interesting to see how people react, both believers and nonbelievers. The author does not really present an opinion as to whether or not the visions are real. I learned a good bit about how the Catholic church handles such things, and it prompted me to do my own research regarding our local experiences. The book did drag a bit, and if I hadn't had some distant experience with the subject matter, I don't know if I would have finished the book.
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LibraryThing member sparkingpot
very enjoyable
LibraryThing member Doey
absolute tripe.
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
"Give your heart to the precious son and take refuge within his wounds."

Ann Holmes is a teenage runaway girl whose only source of income is from gathering and then selling mushrooms in the woods around the North Fork camp-ground in up-state Washington. One day whilst alone in the forest as she
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brushes dirt from the gills of a mushroom she notices a strange bright light that hovers between two trees. She is initially frightened and runs away reciting an Our Father and three Hail Marys as she does so. However when she witnesses the light again she sees a human figure within it gliding towards her and recognises the figure as being the Virgin Mary. On returning to the camp-ground Ann seeks refuge in her friend's Carolyn Greer camper-van. On hearing Ann's tale Carolyn is sceptical but agrees to accompany Ann back into the woods for another look. Although Ann alone sees the figure again Carolyn is struck by her reaction to the apparition and reports the sighting to a few of her own friends. Thus word spreads and so ever greater crowds of pilgrims, including the local priest Father Donald Collins, turn up to accompany the two women to share and document Ann's contact with the Holy Virgin.

Ann Holmes is an unlikely choice as a visionary. She is sixteen, an itinerant runaway, the daughter of an unmarried teenage mother who lives with a meth-amphetamine addict who at fourteen repeatedly raped Ann resulting in two abortions. Ann is a severe asthmatic, small, skinny, has jagged cut hair and constantly wears a hooded sweatshirt to shroud her features. Carolyn Greer a fellow mushroom picker who lives in a van in the North Fork camp-ground is the only person she has that even approaches being a friend.

North Fork was once a relatively prosperous logging town but has been in decline for a number of years due to environmental concerns meaning that many off the loggers are unemployed, listless and desperate for an upturn. Guterson's imagery gives his audience a clear sense of his setting, the landscape is almost tangible and the reader can almost smell the aroma of the forest and the desperation in its inhabitants.

However, the real strength of this book is the characterisation of the four main characters, Ann, Carolyn, Father Collins and a former logger called Tom Cross. All are deeply flawed. Ann has been subjected to an abusive where she was raped and has taken a cocktail of drugs, including magic mushrooms or psilocybin, to cope with the trauma. Carolyn is a non-believer who is mouthy and exploitive whereas Father Collins is fairly newly qualified as a priest and is struggling with his own calling and sexual desires in a mildewing parish. Tom Cross is an ex-logger who now works as a prison officer whose bullying of his wimpish son led to the latter having an accident which left him a quadriplegic. Tom curses God but feels guilt for his son's accident and is desperate for a measure of redemption becoming in the process an unlikely believer.

Despite what on the face of it appears a rather gloomy subject matter there is also a certain wry humour dotted within the book which made me smile. In particular the author takes a rather tongue in cheek dig at the resultant commercialism that enters the scene along with greater numbers of followers with it's accompanying trinkets and Catholic memorabilia. Ann reports that the Virgin wants a church built in the forest and ministry commenced by the faithful whilst church leaders who scrutinize Ann's story have already decided that she is a fraud. Ann wants the greedy to turn over a new leaf but is unable to see that those closest to her are also guilty of that sin.

However, Guterson successfully manages to skirt the question of truth or fraud but instead focuses on the persistence and perhaps even need of faith in modern times, the limits of human reason measured against spiritual yearning.

I have a few minor quibbles with this book, the use of the word "n*gg*r" in one section and the lack of quotation marks for dialogue, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The story is told with passion and readers whatever their beliefs will be able to relate to the feelings that it inspires even to those, who like myself, aren't particularly religious at all.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
The story of a young homeless girl, Ann, who eeks out an existence by hunting mushrooms in the forest where she supposedly sees the Virgin Mary who tells her to build a church on that spot. Ann, tells the young priest in the community who isn't sure whether or not to believe her. Her "friend" in
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the camp is Carolyn, a cynical woman bent on making the most of this phenomena.

There is a lot of Catholic imagery and the selling of Catholic trinkets. Sometimes interesting, sometimes dragging. A bit of a stretch.

Read this because I loved "Snow Falling on Cedars"
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
Magical and real at the same time.



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