cover image OUR LADY OF THE FOREST

OUR LADY OF THE FOREST

David Guterson, Author . Knopf $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-41

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OUR LADY OF THE FORESTDavid Guterson. Knopf, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 0-375-41211-5

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. (Oct. 3)

Forecast:The gloominess of this uncompromising novel may deflect some readers, but others will be drawn in by its intensity. Look for it to hit bestseller lists, though the 350,000 first printing may be ambitious.