Big Cherry Holler

Big Cherry Holler

by Adriana Trigiani


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“Heartwarming . . . Everything that really matters is here: humor, romance, wisdom, and drama.”—The Dallas Morning News

Eight years have passed since Ave Maria Mulligan married Jack Mac, moved up into the hills, and dug in her roots even deeper. But Ave Maria soon discovers that the mountains cannot shelter her from the painful lessons of the heart. As her life reaches a crossroads, almost everybody in town has advice to offer—including the Bookmobile’s self-appointed sexpert Iva Lou Wade, savvy pharmacy owner Pearl Grimes (“a very mature twenty-four”), crusty chain-smoking cashier Fleeta, and of course, the always-wise band director Theodore Tipton, now unofficially “out” and about. But when Ave Maria takes her daughter to Italy for the summer, her passion for a seductive stranger will test her marriage—and push her to choose the man who is truly her destiny.

At once funny and deeply poignant, resonant with the power of love and forgiveness and the unexpected events that force us to stake a claim in our own lives, Big Cherry Holler is a wise, wonderful story to treasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345445841
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/26/2002
Series: Big Stone Gap Series , #2
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 166,313
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

ADRIANA TRIGIANI grew up in Virginia and now lives in New York City with her husband. She is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. BIG CHERRY HOLLER is her second novel. She is currently at work on the film version of her first novel BIG STONE GAP, for which she wrote the screenplay and which she will also direct.

Read an Excerpt


The rain is coming down on this old stone house so hard, it seems there are a hundred tap dancers on the roof. When Etta left for school this morning, it was drizzling, and now, at two o'clock, it's a storm. I can barely see Powell Mountain out my kitchen window; just yesterday it was a shimmering gold pyramid of autumn leaves at their peak. I hope the downpour won't beat the color off the trees too soon. We have all winter for Cracker's Neck Holler to wear gray. How I love these mountains in October: the leaves are turning — layers of burgundy and yellow crinolines that change color in the light — the apples are in, the air smells like sweet smoke, and I get to build big fires in Mrs. Mac's deep hearths. As I kneel and slip a log into the stove, I think of my mother-in-law, who had fires going after the first chill in the air. "I love me a farr," she'd say.

There's a note on the blackboard over the sink in Jack Mac's handwriting: Red pepper sandwiches? The message is at least three months old; no one should have to wait that long for their favorite sandwich, least of all my husband. Why does it takes me so long to fulfill a simple request? There was a time when he came first, when I would drop everything and invent ways to make my husband happy. I wonder if he notices that life has put him in second place. If he doesn't, my magazine subscriptions sure do. Redbook came with a cover exploding in hot pink letters: put the sizzle back in your marriage! we show you how! Step #4 is Make His Favorite Food. (Don’t ask about the other nine steps.) So, with equal measures of guilt and determination to do better, I'm roasting peppers in the oven, turning them while they char as dark as the sky.

I baked the bread for the sandwiches this morning. I pull the cookie sheet off the deep windowsill, brush the squares of puffy dough with olive oil, and put them aside. Then I take the tray out of the oven and commence peeling the peppers. (This is a sit-down job.) My mother used to lift off the charred part in one piece; I've yet to master her technique. The vivid red pepper underneath is smooth as the velvet lining of an old jewelry box. I lay the thin red strips on the soft bread. The mix of olive oil and sweet hot bread smells fresh and buttery. I sprinkle coarse salt on the open sandwiches; the faceted crystals glisten on the red peppers. I'm glad I made a huge batch. There will be lots of us in the van tonight.

There's big news around here. Etta is going to be on television. She and two of her classmates are going on Kiddie Kollege, the WCYB quiz show for third-graders. Etta, who loves to read, has been chosen for her general knowledge. Her fellow teammates are Jane Herd and Billy Skeens. Jane, a math whiz who has the round cheeks of a monarch, has been selected for her keen ability to divide in her head. Billy, a small but mighty Melungeon boy, was chosen for his bravery. He recently helped evacuate the Big Stone Gap Elementary School cafeteria when one of the steam tables caught fire. No one could come up with a prize big enough to honor him (an assembly and a medal seemed silly), so the school decided to put him on the show. I guess the teachers feel that fame is its own reward.

Jack Mac borrowed the van from Sacred Heart Church because we’re transporting the team and I've promised rides to our friends. The television studio is about an hour and a half from the Gap, right past Kingsport over in Bristol, Tennessee. The show is live at six p.m. sharp, so we'll leave right after school. Etta planned her outfit carefully: a navy blue skirt and pink sweater (her grandfather Mario sent it to her from Italy, so Etta thinks it’s the best sweater she owns, if not the luckiest). She is wearing her black patent-leather Mary Janes, though I pointed out that you rarely see anyone's shoes on TV.

I make one final pass through the downstairs, locking up as I go. With its simple, square rooms and lots of floor space, this old house is perfect for raising kids. Of course, when Mrs. Mac was alive, I never dreamed I'd live here. For a few years, this was just another delivery stop for me in the Medicine Dropper. I remember how I loved to drive up the bumpy dirt road and see this stone house sitting in a clearing against the mountain like a painting. If I had known that Mrs. Mac would one day be my mother-in-law, I might have tried to impress her. But I didn't. I'd drop off her pills, have a cup of coffee, and go. I never thought I would fall in love with her only son. And I never thought I would be looking at my face in these mottled antique mirrors, or building fires for heat, or raising her granddaughter in these rooms. If you had told me that I would make my home in this holler on this mountain, I would have laughed. I grew up down in town; no one ever moves out of Big Stone Gap and up into the hills. How strange life is.

I check myself in the mirror. Etta is forever begging me to wear more makeup. She wants me to be a young mom, like her friends have; in these parts, the women my age are grandmothers! So I stop in the hallway for a moment and dig for the lipstick in the bottom of my purse. My youthful appeal will have to come from a tube. You would think that someone who has worked in a pharmacy all her life would have one of those snazzy makeup bags. We have a whole spin rack of them at the Mutual's. Maybe Etta's right, I should pay more attention to the way I look. (Covering up my undereye circles is just not a priority.) Folks tell me that I haven't changed since I was a girl. Is that a good thing? I lean into the tea-stained glass and take a closer look. Eight years with Jack MacChesney have come and gone. It seems once I fell in love with him, time began flying.

Someone is banging on the front door. The thunder is so loud, I didn't hear a car come up the road. With one hand, Doris Bentrup from the flower shop juggles an umbrella in the wind and with the other, a stack of white boxes festooned with lavender ribbons. Two pairs of reading glasses dangle from her neck. Beads of rain cover the clear plastic cap she wears on her head.

"Come on in!"

"Can't. Got a wagon full of flowers. Got a funeral over in Pound. I'm gonna kill myself if this rain done ruined my hair."

"It looks good." I'm about a foot taller than Doris, so I look down on her tiny curls, each one a perfect rosette of blue icing under a saran-wrap tent.

"It'd better. I suffered for this look. I sat under that dryer over to Ethel's for two hours on Saturdee 'cause of the humidity. She sprayed my head so bad these curls is like tee-niney rocks. Feel."

"They're perfect," I tell Doris without touching her head.

"Etta all ready for the big show?"

"Yes ma'am."

"We hope they win this year, on account of no one from Big Stone ever wins."

"Didn't the Dogwood Garden Club win on Club Quiz?"

"Yes'm. But that was a good ten year' ago. And they was grown-ups, so I don't think you can count 'at. Wait till you see who these is from. I nearly done dropped my teeth, and you know that ain't easy, 'cause I glue 'em in good."

I pull the tiny white card bordered in crisp pink daisies out of the envelope. It reads: Knock 'em dead, Etta. And remember, the cardinal is the state bird of Virginia. Love, Uncle Theodore.

"That there Tipton is a class act. He ain't never gonna be replaced in these parts," Doris announces as she tips her head back to let the rain drain off her cap. "Sometimes we git a ferriner in here that makes us set up and take notice. How’s he doin' at U.T.?"

"He says he's got the best marching band in the nation."

"Now if they'd only start winning them some ball games."

As Doris makes a break for her station wagon, I open a box. There, crisp and perfect, is a wrist corsage of white carnations. Nestled in the cold petals are three small gold-foil letters: win. I inhale the fresh, cold flowers. The letters tickle my nose and remind me of the homecoming mums that Theodore bought me every year during football season. For nearly ten years, Theodore was band director and Junior Class Sponsor at Powell Valley High School. He chaperoned every dance, and I was always his date. (Parents appreciated that an experienced member of the Rescue Squad chaperoned school dances.) Theodore always made a big deal of slipping the corsage onto my wrist before the game. Win or lose, the dance was a celebration because Theodore’s halftime shows were always spectacular. Besides his unforgettable salute to Elizabeth Taylor prior to her choking on the chicken bone, my favorite was his salute to the Great American Musical, honoring the creations of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Each of the majorettes was dressed as a different lead character, including Maria from The Sound of Music and Julie Jordan from Carousel. Romalinda Miranda, daughter of the Filipino Doctor Who Was on the Team That Saved Liz Taylor, was the ingenue from Flower Drum Song. Theodore pulled her from the Flag Girls; there was a bit of a drama around that, as folks didn’t think that a majorette should be drafted out of thin air for one show just because she looked like she was from the original cast. Once the controversy died down, the Miranda family basked in the glory of the celebration of their Asian heritage. (Extra points for my fellow ferriners.)

I gently place the boxes on top of my tote bag full of things we might need for the television appearance. Extra kneesocks. Chap Stick. Comb. Ribbons. My life is all about collecting things for my family and then putting them back. Lists. Hauling. And I'd better never forget anything. Even Jack relies on me for tissues when he sneezes and quarters for the paper. Sometimes I wonder if all these small details add up to anything.

Reading Group Guide

1. Big Cherry Holler is a sequel to the bestselling Big Stone
Does it help to read Big Stone Gap before delving into Big Cherry Holler? How did the author structure this book as a stand-alone novel, and how does it function as a continuation of the first book?

2. What is the significance of the title Big Cherry Holler,
both literally and figuratively?

3. When the book opens, Ave Maria and Jack Mac have been married for eight years. How have her attitudes about herself and about relationships changed during that time?
How has she remained a "spinster" in spirit?

4. Early in the book, it's disclosed that Jack and Ave's son,
Joe, died after a sudden illness. In what ways do Jack and
Ave deal with his death, both separately and together?
How does their marriage bear the scars of their son's untimely death?

5. What role does small-town life—both in Italy and in Big
Stone Gap—play in Ave's life? How do the mammoth physical attributes of the outside world play against her life?

6. Ave Maria sees Jack Mac chatting with a tanned, blond woman named Karen Bell, and immediately feels anxious.
What evidence of marital estrangement accumulates after that incident? What aspects of Karen's personality do you think would appeal to Jack Mac?

7. How does Ave Maria see Karen Bell as a rival, and in which ways does she feel superior to her? Which feeling ultimately proves more accurate?

8. Were you surprised by the revelation of Theodore's homosexuality?
Which clues—both in this book and in Big
Stone Gap
—are provided before his confession? How do you think this will affect his relationship with Ave?

9. When Ave's protege, Pearl, pleads with Ave to become a partner in the pharmacy, she signs on without consulting
Jack Mac (much to his chagrin). What other decisions in her life does Ave keep to herself? Is Jack justified in his anger, or does he, too, keep some aspects of his life private?
Which ones?

10. Ave's daughter, Etta, is a main character in the book. Ave describes her as "wide open, and yet very private." What parallels can you draw between Ave and Etta, and how are the two characters different? How is Etta a product of Jack Mac's influence? How does she cope with her brother's death?

11. How do the women of Big Stone Gap—Fleeta, Pearl, Iva
Lou—function as a sort of Greek chorus for Ave? How does Ave affect each of their lives, and how do they,
in turn, influence hers? How has each woman evolved throughout the two books?

12. The reader sees Ave Maria in a brand-new environment when she travels to Italy. Which facets of her personality come to the forefront? To what factors do you attribute this change in attitude and appearance?

13. While in Italy, Ave imagines what her life would have been like had her mother not married Fred Mulligan. How do you envision Ave's life if she had grown up in Italy? Would it have been more or less fulfilling?

14. Ave's haircut spurs an absolute transformation. In which other ways does her appearance play a role throughout the book? Of which other novels is this reminiscent?

15. What does Pete represent to Ave, both literally and figuratively?
How does he reawaken passion in her?

16. Theodore dismisses Ave's assertion that she didn't really have an affair with Pete. How is this juxtaposition of
"word vs. deed" a recurrent motif in the book? What examples can you find in the behavior of Ave, Jack Mac, and their friends?

17. When Jack Mac and Ave have their confrontation about
Karen Bell, Ave admits that she wanted him to "take her pain away." Besides Joe's death, what other issues has Ave
Maria grappled with throughout her life? How has she usually dealt with any pain she has suffered?

18. Do you believe that Jack Mac consummated his affair with Karen Bell? What evidence do you have for that conclusion?

19. Jack Mac tells Ave, "I truly believed in us, and you never did." What actions echo Jack Mac's assertion? How does
Jack Mac demonstrate his love for Ave?

20. At the end of Aunt Alice's life, Ave makes an effort to reconcile with her. To what do you attribute this change of heart? How does Ave's relationship with Alice compare to the one she enjoys with her "Eye-talian" relatives?

21. What significance do you derive from the fact that Jack
Mac and Pete get along immediately? What does Pete's appearance in Big Stone Gap, as promised, indicate about his character? How is he similar to Jack Mac, and how is he different?

22. Do you feel that this book is a lead-up to Etta's stand-alone story? How do you envision Etta's adolescence and adulthood?

23. Adriana Trigiani, the book's author, also is an accomplished playwright. How does this novel have the feel of a play—whether through Trigiani's use of dialogue, setting,
conflict, or any other literary device?

Customer Reviews

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Big Cherry Holler 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the characters and the story of Ave Maria. This book was so touching and it enjoyed it very much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wasn't upset, but what happened to this second book in the trilogy? I can only hope we return to the amazing writing of Big Stone Gap in book three. This one was ok, maybe because I loved returning to a beautiful place and time. I loved the characters returning to make me laugh. These things we're all here in round two but without the heart. The story was ok, I loved visiting Italy and watching Etta grow up. But missed the amazement of Big Stone Gap that kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn't find this had any 'POW' in it. Just a story of a married couple trying to cope with life. Don't worry...I'm on to book three with hopes of loving it as much as the first!
tronagirl More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the first novel, so I was excited about having a the chance to follow up with all the characters from Big Stone Gap. Easy to get involved once again.
book_book More than 1 year ago
I wasn't expecting this to be what it was, and it took me off guard. After Big Stone Gap, I had anticipated something humorous, and certainly less intense. But, once I switched gears and put all my previous notions away, I read this book with the interest and enjoyment that I had hoped for. Trigiani's pacing is excellent, and the emotions she asks us to share are believable and at times thought-provoking. Though I did find the trip to Italy and the man who becomes her almost-lover to be somewhat far fetched, I still liked the book and would recommend it to others.
Sandra-D More than 1 year ago
The characters are alive and kicking in this great follow-up to the first book in this series, Big Stone Gap.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read the whole trilogy in a week ,it is so good I couldnt put it down and read at least 50 pages at one time. I have read most of her other books too ,just going to start 'Roccocco'
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. To me, it was much better than Big Stone Gap. It is a very realistic story about mid-life. Can't wait to see what happens in Milk Glass Moon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Big Cherry Holler' is yet another fun filled adventure into the 'Gap' and into the lives of some great characters! I found myself loathing the 'other woman' (hussy) from Coeburn, my heart aching for a family that's lost a child, cheering on Ave Maria to make the right decisions, and laughing hysterically when it all comes together at the end! I loved this book!
Blakelyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to say I was quite disappointed in the storyline of this book. Not only was it depressing, but at the end, it left you wondering about Jack Mac's side of the story. What happened between Jack and Karen Bell? Perhaps that information isn't important to Ave Maria, but its important to the reader. The only thing I enjoyed about the book was the setting - Trigiani makes the reader long for Italy.
turtlesleap on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Big Cherry Holler" is the second in a series of three books Trigiani has written about the life and loves of Ave Maria McChesney, a woman of Italian descent living in a small Appalachian town in Virginia. "Big Stone Gap," first in the series, was marked by a warm and humorous series of sketches of the friends and family who were part of Ave Maria's life. Somehow, the second book in the series has lost much of the warmth and humor that made the first book engaging. The sketches are reduced to edgy, superficial stereotypes. Ave Maria herself is lost in self-pity throughout thesecond book. Jack Mac, her husband, who was a vital and dimensional character in the first book, barely exists in the second one. One reviewer has observed that the portion of the book which takes place in Italy is more vital than the balance of the story and I agree. It's not a bad book; merely one of those instances when a sequel fails to live up to the standard set by the author in the original work.
susanbevans on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another good one from Adriana Trigiani! Reading this book it like going to a family reunion - it was great to "see" everyone again.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is is the second book in this author's trilogy...I recommend reading Big Stone Gap first though....I loved all of her books that I have read so far!
Reader826SF More than 1 year ago
This author is a great writer and has based her main character on her own background. Thus, she has a fully fleshed-out protagonist for this group of stories based in the mining country of the TN hills. I enjoyed the book very much.
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VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
4 1/2 Stars!!! I loved this book even more than the first one. Such a great story of marriage and discovery. Adriana Trigiani has such an amazing way of developing the characters so that you feel as if you truly know them. I cannot wait to read the third book in this series, "Milk Glass Moon". 
NahvilleReader More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the first book, and I mostly enjoyed this one. I just found it to be overly sad without the quirkiness I loved in the first one. It was nice to know how things turned out for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adriana Trigiani did a great job with this series. It has a little bit of everything ... relationships between mother and daughter, wife and husband, family and friends. She blends the environment of Appalachia with Italy and Scotland. If you are looking for a wonderful series, you are in for a treat.
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