Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Mass market, 306 pages, 2000

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: Raves from people in the bookstore I worked at and from members of BookCrazy.

Synopsis: 35-year-old Ave Maria is considered to be the town spinster in the small community of Big Stone Gap, but she’s fine with that. She’s a pharmacist with her own store, and she’s surrounded by good friends like Iva Lou, who drives the bookmobile, and her best friend Theodore. But when Ave Maria’s mother passes away, she leaves behind shattering news that may finally shake Ave Maria out of complacency and leave her questioning if the life she’s built is enough to keep her happy. The first book in a trilogy that is followed by Big Cherry Holler and Milk Glass Moon.

Why you should read this book: Trigiani’s characters are real enough to walk off the page. There’s a certain coziness resulting from that, yet the plot is never left to lag behind the characterization. Ave Maria’s introspection is balanced nicely with lots of dialogue and interaction between the characters. The happy and heartbreaking moments of the novel are handled with equal amounts of skill, with Trigiani getting the point across without wallowing in it. As you turn the last page, you’ll find yourself feeling grateful that it’s the first in a trilogy, because it’s hard to leave the characters behind.

Why you should avoid this book: The usual fear of ‘small town’ books is avoided here: there’s no manipulative, cheap sentimentality. Characterization is still the big draw with this one, so set it aside if you’re in the mood for something with more action.

Opening paragraph:

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.

Fabulous quotes:

I look at him. ‘Call your mother.’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ Jack Mac kisses my cheek. Sweet Sue grabs him away.
‘Hey, Ava, he’s mine. Find your own man!’
The crowd laughs; it’s one of those long, rolling laughs. Now, when you’re the town spinster, jokes of this sort aren’t one bit funny. Around here, being married makes you a prize. No one has claimed me, and although it shouldn’t hurt me, it does. I could cry. Instead, I bend forward and laugh louder than anyone in the house.
Theodore, as if on cue, comes up and puts his hands around my waist. Then he announces, ‘She has a man, Sweet Sue.’ I look up at Theodore, the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I lean against him.
‘Well, I didn’t mean to…’ Sweet Sue stutters. Jack Mac cues the band, gracefully saving his girlfriend’s face. He shrugs at me.

But there was a deep sadness in my mother’s eyes always, a longing to be somewhere else. I used to ask her, ‘Why, Mama, why did you come here?’ As though here were worse than a swamp, a place without air. But she loved the mountains. Mountains meant everything to her.
I begged her to go to Italy with me after my father died. We had the time, we had the means, and most important, we no longer had him. We were free, but we couldn’t adjust to it. After he died, we could play Sergio Franchi as loud as we wanted, but we still kept it muted so we could hear his approaching car in the driveway. He wanted nothing Italian in the house, except food. He ate my mama’s cooking with relish; in fact, that’s when we could count on him to smile. My mother made everything fresh, from her own garden; olive oil she ordered out of New York. My father even drank espresso. Her cooking was his one concession to my mother’s heritage. Though he had studied Italian in college, he refused to speak it. He preferred my mother speak English. She taught me Italian, her regional dialect; we used it as a secret language.

Also recommended: Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo; The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells; Crow Lake by Mary Lawson.

Also by this author: Rococo; Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap; The Queen of the Big Time; Lucia, Lucia; Big Cherry Holler; Milk Glass Moon.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Trigiani was a writer and producer for The Cosby Show.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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