In the fog-bound forests of North Fork, Washington, a sixteen-year-old runaway sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, changing the life of the community. An unlikely candidate for revelation, Ann Holmes is an itinerant mushroom picker who is waifish and sickly, lives in a tent, and can barely afford to buy food. Her vision poses a challenge to a young priest, Father Collins, who is wrestling with the struggles of his calling and must evaluate the nature of the girl's vision - yet finds her disturbingly attractive. Meanwhile, for Tom Cross, an out-of-work logger who has suffered since a devastating accident left his son paralyzed from the neck down, Ann's visions hold out hope for a change. Guterson writes a clear-eyed tale about faith at a crossroad.
The entire novel is marked by this turn toward the homely and the unnoticed. In his previous works of fiction, Guterson sought the moral high ground, giving us characters tinged with nobility living in places carved out of beauty. His brand of moral fiction, influenced by John Gardner, could at times seem insufferably righteous. Now, in Our Lady of the Forest, he overcomes his virtue problem, writing with more humor than ever before. For the first time, he seems interested in the mess and mud of real life … Guterson's previous do-the-right-thing morality is happily set aside in favor of a humanism that allows his people to lust, to be funny, to fail, to hurt one another. No one here does the right thing; no one knows what the right thing would be. Even the landscape is freed from being perfect. Claire Dederer