Picks and Pans Review: The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Janis Hallowell
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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"What if God was one of us?" could be the theme song for this provocative and suspenseful first novel. But instead of God, it's the Virgin Mary who appears in present-day America. Chester, a mildly deranged street person in Boulder, Colo., has a vision of Mary, whom he recognizes as 14-year-old Francesca Dunn. While she's serving breakfast at a café, she is bathed in a shaft of light. Chester falls at her feet, demanding that she bless him, and though "creeped out," she shakily grants his request. The next day another man claims Francesca has cured his ailing heart. From there events escalate wildly. The world converges on Francesca as she shows signs of pregnancy. Is she truly touched by God or just buoyed by her followers? Hallowell offers no easy answers as her various narrators incisively trace the intricate connections between divinity and madness, faith and reason.

NOVEL

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