by David Guterson
Faith is in pretty short supply in North Fork, Wash., until an asthmatic 16-year-old runaway, after foraging for mushrooms in the forest, says that the Virgin Mary appeared before her and asked her to visit the parish priest and help build a church. Guterson’s third novel is populated by a collection of lost souls like the runaway. It’s also a searingly honest portrait of the downwardly mobile in blue-collar America. Are the visions of the Virgin Mary real? Does it matter? North Fork suddenly acquires a new economic base—religious tourism—as the faithful arrive seeking room and board and laundry facilities as well as miracles. Guterson’s troubled characters and their interactions aren’t the stuff of which happily-ever-after endings are made. But that’s less important than the larger issues posed here, among them the nature of faith, its role in salvation and the ability of both to ease human suffering.