Book review: Town gets into an uproar following holy visitation
“Our Lady of the Forest” by David Guterson
From the first page, Guterson sets a scene of gloom: never-ending rain, a dying town, an uneducated runaway living in a campground, picking mushrooms for money to scrounge out a living.
The other characters who inhabit this town are equally depressing. Carolyn Greer, atheist opportunist who quickly appoints herself as spokesperson for the visionary. The local priest whose church is beset by mildew. Tom Cross, out-of- work lumberjack, exiled from his family, a prison guard with much in common with the criminals. And the visionary herself, a young woman who struggles to survive a horrible childhood, who is not even Catholic, who has broken several of the Ten Commandments repeatedly and without guilt.
The story unfolds thusly: the girl, Ann Holmes, is out in the forest picking mushrooms when the Virgin Mary appears to her. Carolyn Greer, a fellow mushroomer, sees and hears nothing, but Ann is clearly in the grip of something otherworldly. Word of this visitation spreads first through the town where various believers come to hear the Blessed Mother’s message. This event quickly grows beyond the town and soon visitors number in the hundreds, then thousands. The bishop quickly sends a representative to ascertain the validity of the sighting. The town is flooded with fervent believers in search of miracles and healing. Ann discovers holy water which is said to impart healing.
The town is in an uproar. On the one hand, there is sudden prosperity. On the other hand, there are all these outsiders suddenly among them, disrupting the usual uneventful flow of their small lives. No one quite knows what to make of it. A showdown is building with the owners of the land, Stinson Timber, and the mob of followers of “Ann of Oregon.” The story resolves in an unsuspected way.
Guterson, who also wrote “Snow Falling on Cedars,” writes an offbeat and interesting commentary on today’s pop form of Christianity and the way we as a society approach the unexplainable.
-Jen Dulyanai is a Friend of the El Dorado County Library.