Big Stone Gap

( 166 )

Overview

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the tiny town of Big Stone Gap is home to some of the most charming eccentrics in the state. Ave Maria Mulligan is the town's self-proclaimed spinster, a thirty-five year old pharmacist with a "mountain girl's body and a flat behind." She lives an amiable life with good friends and lots of hobbies until the fateful day in 1978 when she suddenly discovers that she's not who she always thought she was. Before she can blink, Ave's fielding marriage proposals, fighting...
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Overview

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the tiny town of Big Stone Gap is home to some of the most charming eccentrics in the state. Ave Maria Mulligan is the town's self-proclaimed spinster, a thirty-five year old pharmacist with a "mountain girl's body and a flat behind." She lives an amiable life with good friends and lots of hobbies until the fateful day in 1978 when she suddenly discovers that she's not who she always thought she was. Before she can blink, Ave's fielding marriage proposals, fighting off greedy family members, organizing a celebration for visiting celebrities, and planning the trip of a lifetime—a trip that could change her view of the world and her own place in it forever. Brimming with humor and wise notions of small-town life, Big Stone Gap is a gem of a book with a giant heart. . . .
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for BIG STONE GAP
"Charming . . . Readers would do well to fall into the nearest easy chair and savor the story."
USA Today

"Delightfully quirky . . . chock-full of engaging, oddball characters and unexpected plot twists, this Gap is meant to be crossed."
People (Book of the Week)

"As comforting as a mug of chamomile tea on a rainy Sunday."
The New York Times Book Review

"A touching tale of a sleepy Southern town and a young woman on the brink of self-discovery and acceptance."
Southern Living

"Ave Maria's spunky attitude, sardonic wit, and extravagant generosity compel you into her fan club . . . . Delightfully entertaining."
Tampa Tribune

"A delightful tale of intimate community life [where] the characters are as real as the ones who live next door."
Sunday Oklahoman

"In a sassy Southern voice, [Trigiani] creates honest, endearingly original characters."
— Glamour

USA Today
Big Stone Gap is as comforting as a patchwork quilt, as charming as a country cottage. Readers would do well to fall into the nearest easy chair, cup of tea in hand, and savor the story of Ave Maria Mulligan. Big Stone Gap's strength lies in its characters, and Trigiani's debut novel holds no pretense. It's a story of simple people with complex emotions -- and no one is more complex than Ave Maria. Big Stone Gap is as mouthwatering as fried chicken and biscuits!
USA Today
BIG STONE GAP is as comforting as a patchwork quilt, as charming as a country cottage. Readers would do well to fall into the nearest easy chair, cup of tea in hand, and savor the story of Ave Maria Mulligan. BIG STONE GAP's strength lies in its characters, and Trigiani's debut novel holds no pretense. It's a story of simple people with complex emotions — and no one is more complex than Ave Maria. BIG STONE GAP is as mouthwatering as fried chicken and biscuits!
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Trigiani's story of a middle-aged spinster finding love and a sense of self in a small Virginia coal town is a lot like a cold soda on a hot summer day: light and refreshing, if just a little too sweet. Trigiani, a playwright, filmmaker and former writer for The Cosby Show, has a Southern voice that perfectly embodies her main character, the embattled Ave Maria Mulligan. Ave Maria, who's satisfied if not exactly happy in her role as the town pharmacist, begins questioning her quiet, country life after a posthumous letter from her mother reveals a jarring secret. Ave Maria soon faces a crisis of identity, the advances of a surprising suitor and the threat of her acerbic, money-grubbing Aunt Alice. From the suitor, who points out his brand-new pickup truck during a marriage proposal, to the town temptress, who dispenses romantic advice from her bookmobile, Trigiani brings the story alive with her flexible vocal inventions. Fans of true love stories and happy endings certainly won't be disappointed. Based on the Random hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 31). (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Ave Maria's life in Big Stone Gap, VA, is essentially the same as it's been for all 35 years of her life, but after her mother's will reveals that the man Ave thought was her father isn't, she begins to lose hold of her routine. Before long, she's had two surprise marriage proposals, the clerk at her pharmacy has decided to quit, and her embittered aunt has decided to sue her. In between panic attacks and shouting matches, Ave tries to figure out what all these changes mean in her life. Trigiani's reading of her novel is superb, capturing not only Ave Maria's voice but the voices of the varied and eccentric residents of Big Stone Gap. The abridgment is not as smooth as it might be, leaving listeners with the occasional notion that they have missed something, and, in spite of a weak and somewhat lengthy ending, this isn't the type of book one wants to skim. Alas, no unabridged edition currently exists. Recommended for popular fiction collections.--Adrienne Furness, Maplewood Community Lib., Rochester, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Andrea Higbie
Big Stone Gap is as comforting as a mug of chamomile tea on a rainy Sunday served with Ave Maria's specialty: freshly baked oatmeal cookies.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345438324
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/15/2002
  • Series: Big Stone Gap Series , #1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 55,023
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, in the 1970s. She has honed her storytelling abilities over a decade of writing and producing some of television's top-rated shows, including the groundbreaking Cosby Show. Trigiani is also an award-winning playwright and documentary filmmaker. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Biography

As her squadrons of fans already know, Adriana Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, a coal-mining town in southwest Virginia that became the setting for her first three novels. The Big Stone Gap books feature Southern storytelling with a twist: a heroine of Italian descent, like Trigiani, who attended St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, like Trigiani. But the series isn't autobiographical -- the narrator, Ave Maria Mulligan, is a generation older than Trigiani and, as the first book opens, has settled into small-town spinsterhood as the local pharmacist.

The author, by contrast, has lived most of her adult life in New York City. After graduating from college with a theater degree, she moved to the city and began writing and directing plays (her day jobs included cook, nanny, house cleaner and office temp). In 1988, she was tapped to write for the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, and spent the following decade working in television and film. When she presented her friend and agent Suzanne Gluck with a screenplay about Big Stone Gap, Gluck suggested she turn it into a novel.

The result was an instant bestseller that won praise from fellow writers along with kudos from celebrities (Whoopi Goldberg is a fan). It was followed by Big Cherry Holler and Milk Glass Moon, which chronicle the further adventures of Ave Maria through marriage and motherhood. People magazine called them "Delightfully quirky... chock full of engaging, oddball characters and unexpected plot twists."

Critics sometimes reach for food imagery to describe Trigiani's books, which have been called "mouthwatering as fried chicken and biscuits" (USA Today) and "comforting as a mug of tea on a rainy Sunday" (The New York Times Book Review). Food and cooking play a big role in the lives of Trigiani's heroines and their families: Lucia, Lucia, about a seamstress in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and The Queen of the Big Time, set in an Italian-American community in Pennsylvania, both feature recipes from Trigiani's grandmothers. She and her sisters have even co-written a cookbook called, appropriately enough, Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap. It's peppered with anecdotes, photos and family history. What it doesn't have: low-carb recipes. "An Italian girl can only go so long without pasta," Trigiani quipped in an interview on GoTriCities.com.

Her heroines are also ardent readers, so it comes as no surprise that book groups love Adriana Trigiani. And she loves them right back. She's chatted with scores of them on the phone, and her Web site includes photos of women gathered together in living rooms and restaurants across the country, waving Italian flags and copies of Lucia, Lucia.

Trigiani, a disciplined writer whose schedule for writing her first novel included stints from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning, is determined not to disappoint her fans. So far, she's produced a new novel each year since the publication of Big Stone Gap.

"I don't take any of it for granted, not for one second, because I know how hard this is to catch with your public," she said in an interview with The Independent. "I don't look at my public as a group; I look at them like individuals, so if a reader writes and says, 'I don't like this,' or, 'This bit stinks,' I take it to heart."

Good To Know

Some fascinating, funny outtakes from our interview with Trigiani:

"I appeared on the game show Kiddie Kollege on WCYB-TV in Bristol, Virginia, when I was in the third grade. I missed every question. It was humiliating."

"I have held the following jobs: office temp, ticket seller in movie theatre, cook in restaurant, nanny, and phone installer at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. In the writing world, I have been a playwright, television writer/producer, documentary writer/director, and now novelist."

"I love rhinestones, faux jewelry. I bought a pair of pearl studded clip on earrings from a blanket on the street when I first moved to New York for a dollar. They turned out to be a pair designed by Elsa Schiaparelli. Now, they are costume, but they are still Schiaps! Always shop in the street -- treasures aplenty."

"Dear readers, I like you. I am so grateful that you read and enjoy my books. I never forget that -- or you -- when I am working. I am also indebted to the booksellers who read the advanced reader's editions and write to me and say, "I'm gonna hand-sell this one." That always makes me jump for joy. I love the people at my publishing house. Smart. Funny, and I like it when they're slightly nervous because that means they care. The people I have met since I started writing books have been amazing on every level -- and why not? You're readers. And for someone to take reading seriously means that you are seeking knowledge. Yes, reading is fun, but it is also an indication of a serious-minded person who values imagination and ideas and, dare I say it, art. I never thought in a million years when I was growing up in Big Stone Gap that I would be writing this to you today. Books have always been sacred to me -- important, critical, fundamental -- and a celebration of language and words. And authors! When I was little, I didn't play Old Maid, I played authors. They had cards with the famous authors on them. Now, granted, they didn't look like movie stars, but I loved what they wrote and had to say. I can boil this all down to one thing: I love to tell stories -- and I love to hear them. I didn't think there was a job in the world where I would get to do both, and now thank God, I've found it."

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

This will be a good weekend for reading. I picked up a dozen of Vernie Crabtree’s killer chocolate chip cookies at the French Club bake sale yesterday. (I don’t know what she puts in them, but they’re chewy and crispy at the same time.) Those, a pot of coffee, and a good book are all I will need for the rainy weekend rolling in. It’s early September in our mountains, so it’s warm during the day, but tonight will bring a cool mist to remind us that fall is right around the corner.

The Wise County Bookmobile is one of the most beautiful sights in the world to me. When I see it lumbering down the mountain road like a tank, then turning wide and easing onto Shawnee Avenue, I flag it down like an old friend. I’ve waited on this corner every Friday since I can remember. The Bookmobile is just a government truck, but to me it’s a glittering royal coach delivering stories and knowledge and life itself. I even love the smell of books. People have often told me that one of their strongest childhood memories is the scent of their grandmother’s house. I never knew my grandmothers, but I could always count on the Bookmobile.

The most important thing I ever learned, I learned from books. Books have taught me how to size people up. The most useful book I ever read taught me how to read faces, an ancient Chinese art called siang mien, in which the size of the eyes, curve of the lip, and height of the forehead are important clues to a person’s character. The placement of ears indicates intelligence. Chins that stick out reflect stubbornness. Deep-set eyes suggest a secretive nature. Eyebrows that grow together may answer the question Could that man kill me with his bare hands? (He could.) Even dimples have meaning. I have them, and according to face-reading, something wonderful is supposed to happen to me when I turn thirty-five. (It’s been four months since my birthday, and I’m still waiting.)

If you were to read my face, you would find me a comfortable person with brown eyes, good teeth, nice lips, and a nose that folks, when they are being kind, refer to as noble. It’s a large nose, but at least it’s straight. My eyebrows are thick, which indicates a practical nature. (I’m a pharmacist—how much more practical can you get?) I have a womanly shape, known around here as a mountain girl’s body, strong legs, and a flat behind. Jackets cover it quite nicely.

This morning the idea of living in Big Stone Gap for the rest of my life gives me a nervous feeling. I stop breathing, as I do whenever I think too hard. Not breathing is very bad for you, so I inhale slowly and deeply. I taste coal dust. I don’t mind; it assures me that we still have an economy. Our town was supposed to become the “Pittsburgh of the South” and the “Coal Mining Capital of Virginia.” That never happened, so we are forever at the whims of the big coal companies. When they tell us the coal is running out in these mountains, who are we to doubt them?

It’s pretty here. Around six o’clock at night everything turns a rich Crayola midnight blue. You will never smell greenery so pungent. The Gap definitely has its romantic qualities. Even the train whistles are musical, sweet oboes in the dark. The place can fill you with longing.

The Bookmobile is at the stoplight. The librarian and driver is a good-time gal named Iva Lou Wade. She’s in her forties, but she’s yet to place the flag on her sexual peak. She’s got being a woman down. If you painted her, she’d be sitting on a pink cloud with gold-leaf edges, showing a lot of leg. Her perfume is so loud that when I visit the Bookmobile, I wind up smelling like her for the bulk of the day. (It’s a good thing I like Coty’s Emeraude.) My father used to say that that’s how a woman ought to be. “A man should know when there’s a woman in the room. When Iva Lou comes in, there ain’t no doubt.” I’d just say nothing and roll my eyes.

Iva Lou’s having a tough time parking. A mail truck has parked funny in front of the post office, taking up her usual spot, so she motions to me that she’s pulling into the gas station. That’s fine with the owner, Kent Vanhook. He likes Iva Lou a lot. What man doesn’t? She pays real nice attention to each and every one. She examines men like eggs, perfect specimens created by God to nourish. And she hasn’t met a man yet who doesn’t appreciate it. Luring a man is a true talent, like playing the piano by ear. Not all of us are born prodigies, but women like Iva Lou have made it an art form.

The Bookmobile doors open with a whoosh. I can’t believe what Iva Lou’s wearing: Her ice-blue turtleneck is so tight it looks like she’s wearing her bra on the outside. Her Mondrian-patterned pants, with squares of pale blue, yellow, and green, cling to her thighs like crisscross ribbons. Even sitting, Iva Lou has an unbelievable shape. But I wonder how much of it has to do with all the cinching. Could it be that her parts are so well-hoisted and suspended, she has transformed her real figure into a soft hourglass? Her face is childlike, with a small chin, big blue eyes, and a rosebud mouth. Her eyeteeth snaggle out over her front teeth, but on her they’re demure. Her blond hair is like yellow Easter straw, arranged in an upsweep you can see through the set curls. She wears lots of Sarah Coventry jewelry, because she sells it on the side.

“I’ll trade you. Shampoo for a best-seller.” I give Iva Lou a sack of shampoo samples from my pharmacy, Mulligan’s Mutual.

“You got a deal.” Iva Lou grabs the sack and starts sorting through the samples. She indicates the shelf of new arrivals. “Ave Maria, honey, you have got to read The Captains and the Kings that just came out. I know you don’t like historicals, but this one’s got sex.”

“How much more romance can you handle, Iva Lou? You’ve got half the men in Big Stone Gap tied up in knots.”

She snickers. “Half? Oh well, I’m-a gonna take that as a compliment-o anyway.” I’m half Italian, so Iva Lou insists on ending her words with vowels. I taught her some key phrases in Italian in case international romance was to present itself. It wasn’t very funny when Iva Lou tried them out on my mother one day. I sure got in some Big Trouble over that.

Iva Lou has a goal. She wants to make love to an Italian man, so she can decide if they are indeed the world’s greatest lovers. “Eye-talian men are my Matta-horn, honey,” she declares. Too bad there aren’t any in these parts. The people around here are mainly Scotch-Irish, or Melungeon (folks who are a mix of Turkish, French, African, Indian, and who knows what; they live up in the mountain hollers and stick to themselves). Zackie Wakin, owner of the town department store, is Lebanese. My mother and I were the only Italians; and then about five years ago we acquired one Jew, Lewis Eisenberg, a lawyer from Woodbury, New York.

“You always sit in the third snap stool. How come?” Iva Lou asks, not looking up as she flips through a new coffee-table book about travel photography.

“I like threes.”

“Sweetie-o, let me tell you something.” Iva Lou gets a faraway, mystical twinkle in her eye. Then her voice lowers to a throaty, sexy register. “When I get to blow this coal yard, and have my big adventure, I sure as hell won’t waste my time taking pictures of the Circus Maximus. I am not interested in rocks ’n’ ruins. I want to experience me some flesh and blood. Some magnificent, broad-shouldered hunk of a European man. Forget the points of interest, point me toward the men. Marble don’t hug back, baby.” Then she breathes deeply, “Whoo.”

Iva Lou fixes herself a cup of Sanka and laughs. She’s one of those people who are forever cracking themselves up. She always offers me a cup, and I always decline. I know that her one spare clean Styrofoam cup could be her entrée to a romantic rendezvous. Why waste it on me?

“I found you that book on wills you wanted. And here’s the only one I could find on grief.” Iva Lou holds up As Grief Exits as though she’s modeling it. The pretty cover has rococo cherubs and clouds on it. The angels’ smiles are instantly comforting. “How you been getting along?” I look at Iva Lou’s face. Her innocent expression is just like the cherubs’. She really wants to know how I am.

My mother died on August 2, 1978, exactly one month ago today. It was the worst day of my life. She had breast cancer. I never thought cancer would get both of my parents, but it did. Mama was fifty-two years old, which suddenly seems awfully young to me. She was only seventeen when she came to America. My father taught her English, but she always spoke with a thick accent. One of the things I miss most about her is the sound of her voice. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can hear her.

Mama didn’t want to die because she didn’t want to leave me here alone. I have no brothers or sisters. The roots in the Mulligan family are strong, but at this point, the branches are mostly dead. My mother never spoke of her family over in Italy, so I assume they died in the war or something. The only relative I have left is my aunt, Alice Mulligan Lambert. She is a pill. Her husband, my Uncle Wayne, has spent his life trying not to make her angry, but he has failed. Aunt Alice has a small head and thin lips. (That’s a terrible combination.)

“I’m gonna take a smoke, honey-o.” Iva Lou climbs down the steps juggling two coffees and her smokes. In under fifteen seconds, Kent Vanhook comes out from the garage, wiping his hands on a rag. Iva Lou gives Kent the Styrofoam cup, which looks tiny in his big hands. They smoke and sip. Kent Vanhook is a good-looking man of fifty, a tall, easygoing cowboy type. He looks like the great Walter Pidgeon with less hair. As he laughs with Iva Lou, twenty years seem to melt off of his face. Kent’s wife is a diabetic who stays at home and complains a lot. I know this because I drop off her insulin once a month. But with Iva Lou, all Kent does is laugh.

I like to be alone on the Bookmobile. It gives me a chance to really examine the new arrivals. I make a stack and then look through the old selections. I pick up my old standby, The Ancient Art of Chinese Face-Reading, and think of my father, Fred Mulligan. When he died thirteen years ago, I thought I would grieve, but to this day I haven’t. We weren’t close, but it wasn’t from my lack of trying. From the time I can remember, he just looked through me, the way you would look through the thick glass of a jelly jar to see if there’s any jelly left. Many nights when I was young I cried about him, and then one day I stopped expecting him to love me and the pain went away. I stuck by him when he got sick, though. All of a sudden, my father, who had always separated himself from people, had everything in common with the world. He was in pain and would inevitably die. The suffering gave him some humility. It’s sad that my best memories of him are when he was sick. It was then that I first checked out this book on Chinese face-reading.

I thought that if I read my father’s face, I would be able to understand why he was so mean. It took a lot of study. Dad’s face was square and full of angles: rectangular forehead, sharp jaw, pointy chin. He had small eyes (sign of a deceptive nature), a bulbous nose (sign of money in midlife, which he had from owning the Pharmacy), and no lips. Okay, he had two lips, but the set of the mouth was one tight gray lead-pencil line. That is a sign of cruelty. When you watch the news on television, look at the anchor’s mouth. I will guaran-damn-tee you that none of them have upper lips. You don’t get on the TV by being nice to people.

On and off for about four years straight the face-reading book was checked out in my name, and my name only. When I went up to Charlottesville on a buying trip for the Pharmacy, I tried to hunt down a copy to buy. It was out of print. Iva Lou has tried to give me the book outright many times. She said she would report it as lost. But I can’t do that. I like knowing it’s here, riding around with old Iva Lou.

I guess I’m staring out the windshield at them, because they’re both looking at me. Iva Lou stomps out her cigarette with her pink Papagallo flat and heads back toward the Bookmobile. Kent watches her return, drinking her in like that last sip of rich, black Sanka.

“I’m sorry. Me and Kent got to talking and, well, you know.”

“No problem.”

“Face-reading again? Don’t you have this memorized by now? Lordy.”

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

This will be a good weekend for reading. I picked up a dozen of Vernie Crabtree's killer chocolate chip cookies at the French Club bake sale yesterday. (I don't know what she puts in them, but they're chewy and crispy at the same time.) Those, a pot of coffee, and a good book are all I will need for the rainy weekend rolling in. It's early September in our mountains, so it's warm during the day, but tonight will bring a cool mist to remind us that fall is right around the corner.

The Wise County Bookmobile is the one of the most beautiful sights in the world to me. When I see it lumbering down the mountain road like a tank, then turning wide and easing onto Shawnee Avenue, I flag it down like an old friend. I've waited on this corner every Friday since I can remember. The Bookmobile is just a government truck, but to me it's a glittering royal coach delivering stories and knowledge and life itself. I even love the smell of books. People have often told me that one of their strongest childhood memories is the scent of their grandmother's house. I never knew my grandmothers, but I could always count on the Bookmobile.

The most important thing I ever learned, I learned from books. Books have taught me how to size people up. The most useful book I ever read taught me how to read faces, an ancient Chinese art called siang mien, in which the size of the eyes, curve of the lip, and height of the forehead are important clues to a person's character. The placement of ears indicates intelligence. Chins that stick out reflect stubbornness. Deep-set eyes suggest a secretive nature. Eyebrows that grow together may answer the question Could that man kill me with his bare hands? (He could.) Even dimples have meaning. I have them, and according to face reading, something wonderful is supposed to happen to me when I turn thirty-five. (It's been four months since my birthday, and I'm still waiting.)

If you were to read my face, you would find me a comfortable person with brown eyes, good teeth, nice lips, and a nose that folks, when they are being kind, refer to as noble. It's a large nose, but at least it's straight. My eyebrows are thick, which indicates a practical nature. (I'm a pharmacistóhow much more practical can you get?) I have a womanly shape, known around here as a mountain girl's body, strong legs, and a flat behind. Jackets cover it quite nicely.

This morning the idea of living in Big Stone Gap for the rest of my life gives me a nervous feeling. I stop breathing, as I do whenever I think too hard. Not breathing is very bad for you, so I inhale slowly and deeply. I taste coal dust. I don't mind; it assures me that we still have an economy. Our town was supposed to become the "Pittsburgh of the South" and the "Coal Mining Capital of Virginia." That never happened, so we are forever at the whims of the big coal companies. When they tell us the coal is running out in these mountains, who are we to doubt them?

It's pretty here. Around six o'clock at night everything turns a rich Crayola midnight blue. You will never smell greenery so pungent. The Gap definitely has its romantic qualities. Even the train whistles are musical, sweet oboes in the dark. The place can fill you with longing.

The Bookmobile is at the stoplight. The librarian and driver is a good-time gal named Iva Lou Wade. She's in her forties, but she's yet to place the flag on her sexual peak. She's got being a woman down. If you painted her, she'd be sitting on a pink cloud with gold-leaf edges, showing a lot of leg. Her perfume is so loud that when I visit the Bookmobile, I wind up smelling like her for the bulk of the day. (It's a good thing I like Coty's Emeraude.) My father used to say that that's how a woman ought to be. "A man should know when there's a woman in the room. When Iva Lou comes in, there ain't no doubt." I'd just say nothing and roll my eyes.

Iva Lou's having a tough time parking. A mail truck has parked funny in front of the post office, taking up her usual spot, so she motions to me that she's pulling into the gas station. That's fine with the owner, Kent Vanhook. He likes Iva Lou a lot. What man doesn't? She pays real nice attention to each and every one. She examines men like eggs, perfect specimens created by God to nourish. And she hasn't met a man yet who doesn't appreciate it. Luring a man is a true talent, like playing the piano by ear. Not all of us are born prodigies, but women like Iva Lou have made it an art form.

The Bookmobile doors open with a whoosh. I can't believe what Iva Lou's wearing: Her ice-blue turtleneck is so tight it looks like she's wearing her bra on the outside. Her Mondrian-patterned pants, with squares of pale blue, yellow, and green, cling to her thighs like crisscross ribbons. Even sitting, Iva Lou has an unbelievable shape. But I wonder how much of it has to do with all the cinching. Could it be that her parts are so well-hoisted and suspended, she has transformed her real figure into a soft hourglass? Her face is childlike, with a small chin, big blue eyes, and a rosebud mouth. Her eyeteeth snaggle out over her front teeth, but on her they're demure. Her blond hair is like yellow Easter straw, arranged in an upsweep you can see through the set curls. She wears lots of Sarah Coventry jewelry, because she sells it on the side.

"I'll trade you. Shampoo for a best-seller." I give Iva Lou a sack of shampoo samples from my pharmacy, Mulligan's Mutual.

"You got a deal." Iva Lou grabs the sack and starts sorting through the samples. She indicates the shelf of new arrivals. "Ave Maria, honey, you have got to read The Captains and the Kings that just came out. I know you don't like historicals, but this one's got sex."

"How much more romance can you handle, Iva Lou? You've got half the men in Big Stone Gap tied up in knots."

She snickers. "Half? Oh well, I'm-a gonna take that as a compliment-o anyway." I'm half Italian, so Iva Lou insists on ending her words with vowels. I taught her some key phrases in Italian in case international romance was to present itself. It wasn't very funny when Iva Lou tried them out on my mother one day. I sure got in some Big Trouble over that.

Iva Lou has a goal. She wants to make love to an Italian man, so she can decide if they are indeed the world's greatest lovers. "Eye-talian men are my Matta-horn, honey," she declares. Too bad there aren't any in these parts. The people around here are mainly Scotch-Irish, or Melungeon (folks who are a mix of Turkish, French, African, Indian, and who knows what; they live up in the mountain hollers and stick to themselves). Zackie Wakin, owner of the town department store, is Lebanese. My mother and I were the only Italians; and then about five years ago we acquired one Jew, Lewis Eisenberg, a lawyer from Woodbury, New York.

"You always sit in the third snap stool. How come?" Iva Lou asks, not looking up as she flips through a new coffee-table book about travel photography.

"I like threes."

"Sweetie-o, let me tell you something." Iva Lou gets a faraway, mystical twinkle in her eye. Then her voice lowers to a throaty, sexy register. "When I get to blow this coal yard, and have my big adventure, I sure as hell won't waste my time taking pictures of the Circus Maximus. I am not interested in rocks 'n' ruins. I want to experience me some flesh and blood. Some magnificent, broad-shouldered hunk of a European man. Forget the points of interest, point me toward the men. Marble don't hug back, baby." Then she breathes deeply, "Whoo."

Iva Lou fixes herself a cup of Sanka and laughs. She's one of those people who are forever cracking themselves up. She always offers me a cup, and I always decline. I know that her one spare clean Styrofoam cup could be her entree to a romantic rendezvous. Why waste it on me?

"I found you that book on wills you wanted. And here's the only one I could find on grief." Iva Lou holds up As Grief Exits as though she's modeling it. The pretty cover has rococo cherubs and clouds on it. The angels' smiles are instantly comforting. "How you been getting along?" I look at Iva Lou's face. Her innocent expression is just like the cherub's. She really wants to know how I am.

My mother died on August 2, 1978, exactly one month ago today. It was the worst day of my life. She had breast cancer. I never thought cancer would get both of my parents, but it did. Mama was fifty-two years old, which suddenly seems awfully young to me. She was only seventeen when she came to America. My father taught her English, but she always spoke with a thick accent. One of the things I miss most about her is the sound of her voice. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can hear her.



Copyright 2000 by Adriana Trigiani

Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion


Why do you think the author set Big Stone Gap during the late 1970s instead of today?

2. The coal mines are the site of danger and oppressiveness, while the caverns Ave Maria and Theodore visit reveal the beauty hidden deep in the earth. How does this dichotomy reflect Ave Maria?s inner world during her yearlong crisis?

3. As the novel progresses and Ave Maria learns more about herself and her past, her feelings for Big Stone Gap change from contentment to disassociation to joy. Have your feelings for your hometown changed as you?ve changed? How?

4. Ave Maria refers to herself as a ?ferriner,? but when she visits Italy she realizes that her home is in Big Stone Gap. What other works have you read in which the hero or heroine must travel to find his or her home in the world?

5. Ave Maria?s description of some events, such as kissing Theodore after the Drama and Jack Mac?s reaction to her gratitude for bringing over her Italian family, differs from other people?s perspectives. Do you believe Ave Maria?s interpretations? Why or why not?

6. Theodore and Ave Maria have romantic feelings for each other, but never at the same time. If their feelings had been more coordinated, do you think they would have entered a lasting marriage? Do you think their ?best friend? relationship will endure after Ave Maria and Jack Mac?s wedding?

7. When did you suspect that Ave Maria would fall in love with Jack Mac? What were the clues that the author left?

8. Jack Mac tells Ave Maria, ?Stop thinking.? Is Jack Mac correct? Does too much thinking lead Ave Mariainto making the wrong choices? Are her emotions a trustier guide or equally unreliable?

9. A common theme in literature is that the heroine (e.g., Snow White, Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Nancy Drew) must lose a parent or parents before she is free to discover who she really is. Is this merely a literary convention or does it have roots in real life? Does it apply to male characters as well? How much significance does Mrs. Mac?s death have to Jack Mac?s personal development?

10. Ave Maria feels relief and not much surprise when she learns Fred Mulligan is not her father, and later she recognizes aspects of herself in Mario. Though Fred is not her blood kin, what traits did he pass on to Ave Maria while he raised her? How much of Ave Maria?s personality was shaped by nature and how much by nurture?

11. When describing her friend Iva Lou, the majorette Tayloe, and Sweet Sue, Ave Maria focuses on the power of beauty and desirability, but she also cautions Pearl that beauty fades while character endures. How does Pearl synthesize the importance of character with the force of beauty?

12. Both Ave Maria and Worley discover their fathers aren?t who they thought they were, but Worley learns of his true parentage when his father is still alive. Do you think Ave Maria?s expectations of love and marriage would have been affected if she had learned the truth about Mario before her mother died? How?

13. Ave Maria is named for the mysterious woman who took Ave Maria?s mother under her wing. Do you see another meaning in Ave Maria?s name? Does it tie in with her developing belief in destiny and faith?

14. Big Cherry Holler, Adriana Trigiani?s next novel about the people of Big Stone Gap, jumps forward eight years into Ave Maria and Jack Mac?s marriage. Knowing these two characters as you do, do you expect the path of true to love run smooth for them? What quirks do Ave Maria and Jack Mac bring to the relationship that could cause bumps or, conversely, even out the way?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion

Why do you think the author set Big Stone Gap during the late 1970s instead of today?

2. The coal mines are the site of danger and oppressiveness, while the caverns Ave Maria and Theodore visit reveal the beauty hidden deep in the earth. How does this dichotomy reflect Ave Maria's inner world during her yearlong crisis?

3. As the novel progresses and Ave Maria learns more about herself and her past, her feelings for Big Stone Gap change from contentment to disassociation to joy. Have your feelings for your hometown changed as youfive changed? How?

4. Ave Maria refers to herself as a 'ferriner,' but when she visits Italy she realizes that her home is in Big Stone Gap. What other works have you read in which the hero or heroine must travel to find his or her home in the world?

5. Ave Maria's description of some events, such as kissing Theodore after the Drama and Jack Mac's reaction to her gratitude for bringing over her Italian family, differs from other people's perspectives. Do you believe Ave Maria's interpretations? Why or why not?

6. Theodore and Ave Maria have romantic feelings for each other, but never at the same time. If their feelings had been more coordinated, do you think they would have entered a lasting marriage? Do you think their 'best friend' relationship will endure after Ave Maria and Jack Mac's wedding?

7. When did you suspect that Ave Maria would fall in love with Jack Mac? What were the clues that the author left?

8. Jack Mac tells Ave Maria, 'Stop thinking.' Is Jack Mac correct? Does too much thinking lead Ave Maria into making the wrong choices? Are her emotions a trustier guide or equally unreliable?

9. A common theme in literature is that the heroine (e.g., Snow White, Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Nancy Drew) must lose a parent or parents before she is free to discover who she really is. Is this merely a literary convention or does it have roots in real life? Does it apply to male characters as well? How much significance does Mrs. Mac's death have to Jack Mac's personal development?

10. Ave Maria feels relief and not much surprise when she learns Fred Mulligan is not her father, and later she recognizes aspects of herself in Mario. Though Fred is not her blood kin, what traits did he pass on to Ave Maria while he raised her? How much of Ave Maria's personality was shaped by nature and how much by nurture?

11. When describing her friend Iva Lou, the majorette Tayloe, and Sweet Sue, Ave Maria focuses on the power of beauty and desirability, but she also cautions Pearl that beauty fades while character endures. How does Pearl synthesize the importance of character with the force of beauty?

12. Both Ave Maria and Worley discover their fathers aren't who they thought they were, but Worley learns of his true parentage when his father is still alive. Do you think Ave Maria's expectations of love and marriage would have been affected if she had learned the truth about Mario before her mother died? How?

13. Ave Maria is named for the mysterious woman who took Ave Maria's mother under her wing. Do you see another meaning in Ave Maria's name? Does it tie in with her developing belief in destiny and faith?

14. Big Cherry Holler, Adriana Trigiani'?s next novel about the people of Big Stone Gap, jumps forward eight years into Ave Maria and Jack Mac's marriage. Knowing these two characters as you do, do you expect the path of true to love run smooth for them? What quirks do Ave Maria and Jack Mac bring to the relationship that could cause bumps or, conversely, even out the way?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 166 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(80)

4 Star

(45)

3 Star

(22)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 166 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    It was good enough to finish, but far from fabulous.

    I thought this book was okay, but it definitely is not great. The plot was predictable most of the time, except for the places where it was just weird. The twists were never clever, but mostly strange. I didn't like the characters at all. Sure they were different, and a few were possible to relate to, but for the most part it felt like she was trying to hard too create quirky characters and in the end she made a bunch of crazy, unrealistic people. And the romance? Awkward. Even though Trigiani was setting it up through the whole book, it felt weird. I kept hoping for someone new to come along and steal Ave Maria's heart so that she wouldn't be with Jack. All in all, not great. The best thing that I can say for this book is that I was able to finish it.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2006

    Not so impressed

    The 'plot twists and turns' were absurd and did not relate to REAL life. I found many of them to be completely ridiculous and annoying and ruined the story. It was an okay book, but not anything to knock your socks off or write home about.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2012

    A classic of introspection that exposes the subtle influences of

    A classic of introspection that exposes the subtle influences of one's upbringing. Easy-flowing 1st person narrative that sometimes broke my heart while inviting me to consider my own life: my relationship with my father, my husband, my daughter, my life as a single. Secrets intended to spare those we love, secrets kept out of shame, and the healing power of truth and honesty are the underlying themes.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    Recommended but not highly

    Story of an unmarried lady in a Southern Virginia town who eventually works through her background and foreground problems. This seems to have cleared the air to allow her to love a friend of 30 years.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Great!

    This book was very good. The plot was interesting which made me just want to keep reading! I cant wait to read the other books!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2010

    One of my favorite books

    I have reread this book at least three times. It is like an old friend that you love to visit from time to time. This book is funny yet poignant. Adriana Trignani really knows how to convey feelings through her prose.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2009

    wonderful book

    I loved this book. One really feels they know the characters and can relate to them.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2008

    First time reading her work - LOVED IT.

    I never read any of her books this was my first. My friend gave me a author signed copy from a luncheon I missed her speaking at. After the first chapter I was hooked. When I finished the book I couldn't wait to get the next one in the series. Hopefully, she will continue writing about this town and the people it in it!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2007

    Held my interest

    It took me a little while to get into this book for some reason, but I eventually found myself really hooked to each character and situation. The southern dialect did annoy me at some parts, but it really just made a better impression of how the characters lived. Ave Maria is a great character that stands up for herself and knows how to take a chance. This is a really good book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Help

    How do u delete a book from ur library?

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2000

    I want to move to Big Stone Gap, VA!

    Big Stone Gap is a close knit town, where all the players are familiar with each other. The narator, Ave Maria, feels as though she is a plain woman, who does not stand out in the town - the town spinster. Throughout the novel, Ave Maria, and the reader, come to learn what effect she has on the other town members. She learns how significant she actually is. This is a heartwarming read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a beautifully written story, and likes to read about wacky small town characters.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Not for me

    This just didn't do it for me. Didn't really like the characters in the story that seemed to drag on about nothing. Unfortunatly I bought the 2 other sequels. Will NOT be reading them.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2013

    Witty and insightful

    This is my first Adriana Trigiani book and it won't be my last! I laughed at the wry, witty social observations of small town life, spoken with a bit of self deprication. I cried at the hard learned lessons of love, family and self. It is engaging from start to finish. Big Stone Gap is a heartfelt glimpse into small town USA. I'm glad I had the chance to visit.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    The first book I read by Adriana. Great read!

    This novel was beautifully written and heartwarming. The characters were well-developed and realistic. I was skeptical when my Mom encouraged me to put down my mystery novels and read this book. I thought I would be bored and would not complete it, but that certainly was not the case. I flew through this novel and read the other 2 in the set as well. Ms. Trigiani is an amazing writer with the ability to make the reader cry and laugh all within the same paragraph. I was completely impressed with the details regarding location descriptions, as well.

    Do not miss out on this wonderful novel. Ms. Trigiani is a breathe of fresh air...and if you get the chance to see her in person, it is a real treat!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2012

    Fat woman's pity party. Nothing interesting about the main chara

    Fat woman's pity party. Nothing interesting about the main character, Ave Maria, just spite and bitterness.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Good

    But predictable

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2011

    Fabulous Book, Fabulous Series!

    A must-read for married women in their mid-life or those who want to understand us!! Love her writing style and her character development. AWESOME!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2009

    Talented Trigiani

    I found this book on a whim and I just requested all of Trigiani's books from my library after I finished it today. I absolutely love the quaint characters and their town. Ave Maria's character is so real. You can really relate to her, especially in the area of not appreciating all of your blessings that have been in front of you all along. I had to hold my hand over my mouth while my kids were napping because I was laughing so hard at certain passages!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2006

    Wonderfully warm...

    I love this book. It pulled me in right from the start. The characters are comfortable and familiar, and the story has restored my faith in good old-fashioned romance. I just started Big Cherry Holler, and it seems promising.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2003

    The Big Stone Gap Pulls You In!

    Adrianna Triganni weaves a wonderful story with realistic characters. I found myself an onlooker in the lives of the small town. I have read the two sequels- and enjoyed them all! The light, realistic stories are a pleasure to read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 166 Customer Reviews

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