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Our Lady of the Forest, David Guterson: Books

By Jack | Books | July 9, 2009 |

By Jack | Books | July 9, 2009 |

Our Anne. She’s a pill popping runaway who picks mushrooms to get by because it’s better than sharing a bed with her mother’s meth addicted boyfriend at his leisure. Her desperation is, however, effectively downplayed in the novel. The matter of factness of her experience is laid bare in a way that isn’t exactly shocking but makes it all acceptable. She shares the camp where she squats outside Seattle with Carolyn, the college educated, self-loathing, skeptic who takes full advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. Our Anne’s priest is a struggling 30ish man who is exceptional only for his vow of celibacy and how that puts sex front and center in his life. His struggles are far less exalted than current events may lead one to expect — racy novels and impure thoughts being the worsr of his crimes.

The impact of the novel comes from the speed and thrall of events after the first of three promised apparitions by the Virgin Mother herself to Our Anne, as she comes to be known. I was a kid when Mary appeared to (was it six?) kids in Medjugoria. I remember them on “60 Minutes.” I had friends who went to visit and came home with golden rosary beads. For reals. The hysteria around events like these vary, I’m sure, and that’s the crux of this novel.

Guterson, without getting to preachy for my tastes, gives the reader insight into the effects of these “miracles” on a small fringe community and town on whose edge they live. Pilgrims begin arriving within 24 hours of the first vision and then the miracles begin, large and small: a woman is cured of warts, a lost sheep finds his path, a church that couldn’t get financied gets built in under a year, a priest reasserts his faith and focus. And what of the apparitions? Real or imaginary? Does it matter? More importantly, has anyone really changed? Did we expect that they would? Do we need them to? The novel is as much about examining those questions as it is about telling a story, which is does well. As with all stories that deal with these kinds of issues (in my experience), it ends a little too easily, too neat, but it’s compelling. Guterson gets less lost in the landscape then he did in my last read of him, for which I am grateful.

I have to confess, I am somewhat drawn to all things religious and ghosty — that might have effected my read.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read. For more of Jack’s reviews, check out his blog, Reads for Fun.

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