Our Lady of the Forest - Book Review

Posted On: Saturday - February 20th 2021 6:32PM MST
In Topics: 
  Immigration Stupidity  Treehuggers  Bible/Religion  Books

đŸŽ”We get letters book recommendations! ♬ ♩*
Between unz.com and Peak Stupidity commenters, I get book recommendations, not always even to me directly, but if they interest me, and I can get them easily, I'll usually read 'em. (I'm still catching up on one from Mr. Hail.)

Our illustrious commenter out of Deutschland, who sure likes Switzerland too, Dieter Kief, recommended a novel some months back, called Our Lady of the Forest, by David Guterson. In our few dozen book reviews (to be found here), we've only reviewed 4 novels. 2 of those focused very specifically on the immigration invasion problem, a specialty of this site, and 2 were prepper novels.

This review then will be reasonably short, due to this book being a novel**. I will not spoil the ending, except to say that I wasn't very satisfied with said ending.

Our Lady of the Forest is about a wayward young waif*** (~ 16 y/o) who supposedly sees visions of, and converses with, the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, in the forest in the Olympic Mountains. From the author's point of view, we don't know if little Ann Holmes is actually seeing Mother Mary or not, but that's part of the mystery. Well, there are a few other characters involved in those woods with her, also somewhat under-employed folks that go into the forest land picking mushrooms (for a living, not always necessarily to see things...) Nowadays, even 15 years ago, it is/was illegal Hispanic guys picking some other kind of plants in that area, but we'll get to the immigration aspect.

Because there are witnesses around, the continual sightings of the Mother Mary by the young lady end up becoming a big deal and a cause a big influx of pilgrims, media, hucksters, and Catholic officials. This happens over the course of a week or so and that is about the length of time of the story. Besides Ann's closest "friend" Carolyn, who becomes her pitch-lady, there are a few other characters that are developed, including Tom Cross, an ex-logger, and a fairly young Priest, Father Collins.

I'll say this about the book: Mr. Guterson knows of what he writes. I've written before regarding One Second After (the other prepper book reviewed here), that the author was told, by Newt Gingrich no less, to "write of what you know". The religious aspect of this novel is not what I mean, as I am not a Catholic, and this one would be probably even more interesting to a Catholic. I refer to the big woods in the Olympic Mountain range in the corner of Washington State. Peak Stupidity discussed before this favorite area of American wilderness in Part 5: The Wilderness of our looting by China series. I'm sure I can be convinced of more beauty elsewhere, but here's the picture again from that post and from the Olympic National Park.

This story takes place in private land, owned by a timber company, but it's got to be nearby.

Mr. Guterson knows his stuff on:

1) The lay of the land, the climate, and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest temperate rain forests. He also knows some very specific places there.

2) The economy of that region and how it was devastated 3 decades ago by the big restraints put on the logging industry.

3) The change in the quality of life for people due to huge immigration levels of ultra-foreigners.

Relating item (1) to the book now, besides describing the place so well, the author even has the name of a motel that I know of, in Port Angeles! For those who've read, or might read the book, this is not the one that Tom Cross is staying at. That one is not named.

On item (2), I WAS trying to keep this post short, so I won't get into the environment vs. economy argument in this post. There are two good sides to the issue, but I'll just say that the great decline of the logging industry is part of this novel, especially for the character Tom Cross. It so happens that his story has an immigration aspect to it. I wrote something already in paragraph 10 of the recent post Hotel Haiti - on Competence. Mr. Guterson does a great job with this, with no PIC holds barred.

The main characters in this novel are not doing very well in life, partly due to the economy of the region, but also due to the normal human foibles. Most of them are hopeful that the visions of Ann Holmes are indeed a miracle. There are the exceptions of the jaded Bishop from the Catholic Church, who has traveled to ascertain the validity of these sightings, and then Ann's pitch-lady and closest confidant Carolyn, who is the most despicable character in the book.

The sexual themes in the book are a little odd, as they sure don't show the good side of that activity. Another small thing I didn't like was that the character Carolyn was overdone. I'm not sure anyone could be that cynical, and her dialog is just too cynical and quick to be realistic. Here is one bigger flaw that I find just plain weird:

I read the LARGE PRINT edition of this book because it was all I could get, kind of embarrassing really, when I was traveling with it once. There were no quote marks. "Maybe it's just the large-print edition, and they couldn't work in big quote marks", I thought, but NO, it's not just the large print edition - this author does not put quotes around any of the dialogue! It's hard to tell where the talking starts and ends. Lots of times, as it went back and forth, I'd have to go back and count, "OK, who started this? Who's talking now?" I'd never seen this before, and it is just plain stupid. Was Mr. Guterson's quote-mark key on his keyboard broken? I would have emailed him a couple of thousand of them, if I had only known!

Hey Guterson: """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" . That's for your next novel. No charge. You're welcome!

With that out of my system, I'll conclude that Our Lady of the Forest was a decent read. It's got some deep religious thinking in it. It makes me want to get back out in the woods too, Mother Mary or no Mother Mary. That's probably not the review that Mr. Kief would have liked to read, but I welcome input in the comments from him or anyone. If you would like to add a section to this review, Dieter, I can edit it (like quote marks and such) and insert it here or put it in another post.

There are more important books to read in these times. I'll still give this one a thumb up. The other thumb is on the quote key, in case David Guterson calls back.

* Sorry, old Paul Shaffer music there, from the Dave Letterman late night show.

** I will say that one of the 2 prepper novels, The Mandibles, was a book for which Peak Stupidity wrote an almost endless review on due to our great interest. We ended up with 6 posts! Introduction, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Conclusion.

*** OK, I'm not sure what a waif is, really, but I seem to recall waifs are skinny, right? This girl is skinny, weak, and vulnerable.

Dieter Kief
Tuesday - February 23rd 2021 4:32AM MST
PS Decent, The Other and Ed King - three more novels of David Guterson I would recommend.

Snow Falling on Cedars I found too - obvious (in style and subject). I gave up after 50 or so pages.

Decent - because it is about death and loneliness in an - at least partly -uplifting and all in all quite sober and accurate way (no easy task that).

The Other - because it is about a youthful ideal gone wrong in the most beautiful scenery.

Ed King - because of the importance of the big men at Silicon Valley and because this book does have something to tell about them. It is humane. About men and women too. And about the mechanics of - sexual and emotional /longing//healing. Mind you: I said the mechanics. I could have also mentioned: The Settings and The Structures or: Structural needs for the healing process (the technical or ritualistic (= magical/theatrical in a way) side of it - cf. Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid****).

**** The play of the moment. If there'd be any proof necesssary, that the humanities have been lost in the wilderness of our (urban, ok) jungles - just like Guterson's character in The Other gets lost in the real wilderness, I would point at the neglect of the potential of this play in this situation we're in. They seem to have forgotten the very reason they exist (= Seinsvergessenheit, hehe, Martin Heidegger, a man of letters who - loved to be out in the woods and lived even in a hut near Todtnau in the Black Forest often times (no water pipes, no shower, no electricity, no dins, no rackets, no hubbubs).
Monday - February 22nd 2021 3:33PM MST
PS: Dieter, since you like this author, I would like to know if you've read "Snow Falling on Cedars". From the GoodReads reviews, if anything, that one is better than this book.
Monday - February 22nd 2021 3:31PM MST
PS: Dieter, I'll be sure to grab the part with the Allman Brothers reference.

This sounds pretty stupid, but I'm just trying to keep slightly less of a connection to that unz site than it could be, going in the other direction. Of course, going from there to here, I go all out to link - in fact, that was the reason I started commenting there to begin with, haha. So, I'd rather it be Moderator or Mod.

I know that confuses things if you are new here, as, yes, I write the posts. I suppose I could pick another name or term, anything but Achmed, and do a quick replace in the dBase. "Moderator" just seemed www-like, that's all.
Dieter Kief
Monday - February 22nd 2021 12:25PM MST

I'm glad about your review and if you want to add something of what I wrote - go ahead (don't miss out on the Allman Brothers if you quote something at all please)!

And I'd love to read more about this great book.

Did I mention, that David Guterson also wrote a furious novel about the Silicon Valley big man and their - pseudo (!) - shrink women - Ed King? - This book too is up there with Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth and John Updike (The Coup).

(I'm now a bit uncertain whether it would be ok if I called you by the first name of your pseudonymous handle - Achmed. - If you wouldn't mind - be so kind as to help me out here (would you like it better if I called you Mr. Moderator?)
Monday - February 22nd 2021 7:48AM MST
PS: Mr. Ganderson, Mr. Hail put a little more info in one of his comment regarding the site with the DiSantis/Biden phone uhh "conversation". I wish I could see more verification too. A post is coming ...

For those praising Linh Dinh, I read only one of his columns and saw him as another unz-style anti-all-things-American pundit. You all have made me rethink this. I can go read hundreds of archived columns and comments, but I know it will take so much more of my time. I will try to find the book at the library though.

Dieter, thanks for your take. I left out something that I really wanted to say about this book, also something praiseworthy, so I will add an addendum. I can put some of your writing in that post too, if it's OK with you, Dieter.

Mr. Hail, I didn't see the whole page, with hundreds of reviews, on Goodreads till after writing my review. I could spend hours reading them. Another thing is that I should start linking to Goodreads, both on unz posts and herein, when I want to point out the book in question. I used amazon as a source of info and reviews, not as a sales pitch, just as I will use the IMDB (owned by amazon at one point - not sure now) for movies.

Monday - February 22nd 2021 7:39AM MST
PS: Stazeet, what's an RSS feed? No, I kid, someone did explain it to me on unz.com in the comments. I dunno... I'm just a country blogger. (I'll look at a link about it, if you recommend a good one.) In the meantime, if you just click once a day, you'll see from 0 to 2 (very occasionally 3) new ones. You won't get too behind on comments, I guarantee you!

Monday - February 22nd 2021 7:29AM MST
PS: Mr. Ganderson, don't be sorry about the double-post (took care of it and took out the request too). This site seems to get locked up some times. It could easily be my fault - I gotta get into the software again sometime... I don't have that much patience for this either.

About your experience with the hockey players and miracle team of 1980. I wouldn't mind seeing that movie, if I can get it. No, I am not any kind of hockey fan, but the sport seems to draw much more decent players, at least at the top levels, than football and basketball. That was the Winter Olympics, of course, and the summer ones that year were the ones America boycotted and coerced other countries to boycott, over Afghanistan. How funny now, when you look at this in hindsight.

Thank for the history and anecdotes. You and a bunch of your ex-college roommates could be the next Bobby Riggses to the other sides Patel Pucks. You may lose, but you can show those cake-eating Brahmans that they are not untouchables, up against the glass!
Monday - February 22nd 2021 7:12AM MST

Amazingly OT here but today’s the 41st anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice”, the US beating the Soviets 4-2, which did not get them the Gold- they had to come from behind to beat the Finns on 24 Feb to do that.

I know sportsball comes in for a lot of (mostly well-deserved) criticism hereabouts, but this was a great moment.

I have a tangental connection to that team- they played a home schedule at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington, MN ( home of the late, lamented North Stars)- my friends and I had season tickets and thus saw this squad play a lot. A bunch of them had been on the U of MN team that won the NCAA championship the previous spring- along with a generous helping of good players from rival schools. The Movie “Miracle”, which is pretty good, focuses its drama on the MN vs MA rivalry, which was real back then, but players like Mark Pavelich from UMD, Dave Christian from NoDak, and especially Mark Johnson from WI were especially hated rivals, too. Johnson is an interesting case, as he was the son of long time Badger coach Bob Johnson. Johnson and Herb Brooks, to put it mildly, did not much care for each other- Herbie picking Johnson for the team went a long way toward healing that breach. I’d love to tell you guys that I predicted that this team would win the gold... but I will say there was a consensus among those of us who watched this team play all year that a medal was possible.

The Russia game was not on live TV- I took an early slide from work, and my roommate and I listened to the game on the radio (4 PM central time)- we were so nervous we couldn’t sit- one of my great sporting thrills, and I couldn’t even watch live!

Also in the movie “Miracle” there’s a scene between periods where Brooks questions Rob McClanahan’s ( who’d played for Herbie at MN) toughness- in the movie he calls him a ‘candyass”; in real life, though, he called him a “cake eater”, which, in Minnesota-speak is way worse; it implies a rich boy lack of toughness; Mac was from Mounds View, an upscale St. Paul suburb, while Herbie was from the blue collar east side of St. Paul.

Also, the Olympic tournament was a round robin format, so if the US lost to the Finns two days later they would not have medalled at all. So this didn’t make the movie, but between the second and third periods of the Finland game, the US was down 1-2; Brooks walks into the dressing room and says “ you guys lose this game you’ll remember it for the rest of your lives.” He turns, takes a few steps toward the door, whirls around, and shouts “YOUR FUCKING LIVES!”

Unlike the gold medal winning US team of 1960, many members of the 1980 team went on to have good NHL careers- Ken Morrow, a defenseman from Bowling Green U in OH, joined the Islanders immediately after the games and got his name on the Stanley Cup, the first of many times for him. In the 60’s Americans were unofficially banned from the NHL: only one member of that 1960 team had any kind of career in the bigs- John Mayasich ( Eveleth,, MN) and Billy Cleary (Cambridge, MA) would have been stars, but they both knew the game was rigged, and never played pro hockey.

I was fortunate in being able to play with a bunch of those 1980 guys in later years- fine gentlemen, in my estimation. Oh, and BTW- just because I was fortunate enough to play with some high level talent, don’t draw any conclusions about my ability- my hockey career is a testimonial to the notion that “ anything worth doing is worth doing poorly”. On the other hand, I’ m probably a better hockey player than every single person in India!
Monday - February 22nd 2021 7:02AM MST
@Hail Agreed on Linh Dihn. His photos are excellent too.

As to how it ended up in your library (weird), I can guess two ways. A lot of libraries will purchase books for members. So somebody asked for it and the librarian didn't know what it was. Or, more likely, the librarians mistakenly thought it was a book about "wise Asian man travels America and makes fun of the hillbillies." If they understood he was on their side, they'd never let it into the library.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 11:30PM MST

I see that on both the cover of the novel posted here...


...and the cover shown at GoodReads.com...


...the author's name is much bigger than the title of the book. What's the thinking there? Is David Guterson so well known that sale increase x% for every y% increase in his name's font size? I guess his publisher must think so.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 11:18PM MST

On the peak popularity of the novel "Our Lady of the Forest" (continued from a parenthetical remark in previous comment):


We see in the Ngram plot an initial burst in "mentions" of the phrase, in published material, after the novel's 2003 release, and then this second, distinct rise and fall in2009-2011, which I suspect might be its peak reading-popularity. (vs. 'mention'-popularity peak), but it's far from iron-clad.

On Goodreads.com, we see lots of reviews, and the most popular, dating to the late 2000s, but their popularity could just be because they are oldest.

It seems too attractive to let go that a novel like that would peak in popularity during the Great Recession of the late 2000s, early 2010s.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 11:09PM MST

"Our Lady of the Forest" sounds like a novel Linh Dinh could have written, if he allowed himself the liberty of this religion-driven plot device, because the rest seems similar.

He published a collection of his essays a few years ago, I think under the title "POSTCARDS FROM THE END OF AMERICA," which featured a back-cover top-line endorsement by Ron Unz.

Linh Dinh's essays are on down-on-their-luck people he met while traveling around places in America and slumming it, usually at the cheapest bars he could find where ever he was as he stumbled out of bus or train and got his fill of walking around looking at things. While theoretically being profiles of these people, they're more like parts of novels.

Maybe Linh Dinh himself believes none of these usually-shabby people he meets are compelling enough for a novel, but who's to say? Some of them are pretty compelling in the form he wrote them. He even included dialogue in many of them, including use of the traditional " " marks), which I assume he re-constructed from notes and memory, maybe sometimes from recordings he made with permission.

His "postcards" (essays) were all done in the early- and mid-2010s, pre-Trump, and reading them a few years later, after Trump flipped all these kinds of areas (at least the white ones), one sees Linh Dinh as a political prophet. With no awareness that Trump/MAGA was coming, Linh Dinh had written pieces that practically reviewed Trump/MAGA from a sociological perspective before Trump even came on the scene and produced historic vote swings in most of Middle America, including those where many of my relatives live in the Upper Midwest, Trump often winning by the largest margin of any presidential candidate in history in such places.

(On the political point of presaging Trump/MAGA, I see "Lady of the Forest" was published in late 2003, seven to twelve years before many of the Linh Dinh essays aforementioned and twelve years before Trump "came down the escalator" [June 2015]. "Lady of the Forest" seems to have been at its peak popularity in 2009 based a look at Google Trends, right there during the depth of the so-called Great Recession.)

Back to Linh Dinh, I got more out of reading the Linh Dinh book in paper form than I have reading him sometimes in digital form. The essay form was easily digestible pleasure-reading you could knock off one at a time as time allowed, and although a lot of his commentary/profiles/"postcards" are similar to the rest, there is variation in the places he goes. As you say, it's interesting to see someone profile a place you know in novel-esque form, partly to see what he gets right and wrong, or maybe even insights you didn't otherwise get about a place you think you know so well.

To close out this comment, which grew into a review in its own right as a comment to a review, I was surprised to find POSTCARDS FROM THE END OF AMERICA by chance at the public library, right there on the shelf. I think whichever library person okay'ed that, because otherwise I'd frankly never have read Linh Dinh's material at that length (in digital form). Though he is not without his faults or weaknesses, the book turned me into a Linh Dinh Neutral to a Linh Dinh Fan.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 8:49PM MST
PS hey Achmed, what is the name of your RSS feed? Don’t want to miss a post!
Sunday - February 21st 2021 4:35PM MST
PS. I saw it over at Hail’s, that provoked the question. Seems too good to be true, but boy o boy.....
Dieter Kief
Sunday - February 21st 2021 3:44PM MST
PS -
- - - - Wonders, craziness (and mental disorder), drugs (mushrooms), beauty of various kinds (not least natural ones) and religion and the unifying spirit (unio mystica) which connects all these spheres - - -

Thanks. Great review. The book has three centers: 1) Nature (you did focus on this one). 2) Life of regular folks in the rural Pacific Northwest (that theme was important for you too) and - 3) the longing for transcendence that springs from that hard life (here you are a bit on the defensive side).

Transcendence is big throughout. That and natural beauty - not only of the forest but also of Ann, the skinny, a bit run down but nevertheless (sexually) attractive visionary) and how (not only her) multi-faceted attractiveness affects the logger, the priest and the greater public - all on their own terms, so to speak. The unemployed logger, the greater public who is more and more drawn into the scene, the priest, and his supervisor. David Guterson makes it easy to follow these people and how they are attached to the many forms of inner-worldly transcendence, which the scenery and his characters embody and/or encounter in many different ways. The subtext of the novel is religious in the sense of a feeling of belonging, which people strive for - good people as well as other ones. In the end, that is what comes through - that longing for belonging, even if in a form, that finally might look as if this main theme of the book would be diminished by it (it isn't). 

The founding equation is natural beauty (of all kinds - not least of the Pacific Northwest but also of the main run down desperate and skinny character Ann) - ajå: The main equation at the center of the book works like this: This multi-faceted natural beauty that is on display here equals transcendence and this transcendence equals longing and: A reason for belonging and the oneness of all kinds of folks - a feeling of universal unity. This mystic feeling which - in order to be achievable for us - must be turned into something that can speak to everybody though. So here is sublimation at work: The transformation of the primal (instinctual) drives of our bodies and our souls into something that encapsulates those (at times: dark) forces without falling for them: And that then must be - something else to mark the difference and thus - enable release/redemption. To cultivate primal (instinctive) longings means ideally to transform them into something that - can be shared. - A (religious) ritual, a speech, a song, a poem, a dance...***. 

***The Belonging Quartett 

Since we talked about the Allman Brothers here: The movie Almost Famous shares quite a bit of the subtext of Our Lady of the Forest (and a skinny and charming groupie - Penny Lane (cute but too sugar-coated to be quite real: Kate Hudson. In this regard Guterson's Ann is much more realistic). But the religious/transcendental subtext of the novel is also to be found in lots of the Allman Brothers Band's songs: Not least in Blue Sky - with its "Early sunday mornings - bells are ringing everywhere" - and the "river flowing" under "blues skies": Nature and transcendence (religion) and - joy.



(My wife has read the book and a few friends too - none of us had a problem with the missing quotation marks. - A transcontinental punctuation miracle?) 

Sunday - February 21st 2021 1:01PM MST
PS Mr. Ganderson, did you go to Mr. Hail's link.

The article: https://realrawnews.com/2021/02/gov-desantis-tells-biden-go-fuck-yourself/

says at the end:

"Addendum: We are aware that various so-called fact checking agencies are disputing our account of the telephone call, claiming that the governor’s office has denied the event happened. These so-called fact checking parties are run by the Democratic Deep State. Real Raw News stands by our story and its source, and we would love to see DeSantis comment on it personally."

I sure hope so too.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 12:22PM MST
Has anyone been able to verify whether DeSantis told Slow Joe to go bleep himself? I desperately wish to believe it to be so.
Sunday - February 21st 2021 7:18AM MST
PS: Elefino, as I recall, Robert. That brings back memories, and I'll have to see if my boy knows that one.

I've only read the last of your 3 book recommendations. "The Camp of the Saints" is one of the ones that I wrote we "reviewed", but I put "reviewed" in quotes (see, I got 'em!) because I just recalled that this post (below) is really a review of a review. The actual nicely done review was on VDare.

Saturday - February 20th 2021 10:40PM MST
PS: Absolutely nothing to do with this post, but back to the post on jokes:

What do you call a cross between an elephant and a rhinoceros?


P.S. Novel recommendations: The Mosque of Notre Dame: The Turner Diaries and The Camp of the Saints, burdened with Traditional Catholicism and Russian paranoia (and triumphalism).
WHAT SAY YOU? : (PLEASE NOTE: You must type capital PS as the 1st TWO characters in your comment body - for spam avoidance - or the comment will be lost!)