Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Big Stone Gap
Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap was a title that I had heard about several years ago and never got around to reading. Then when I saw her suggested as a Gentle Read in my Reader's Advisory textbook, I decided now was the time to try it out.
Trigiani's Big Stone Gap, the first in a series, describes a small town in the mountains of Virginia during the 1970s. She emphasizes the beauty of the mountain surroundings and the eccentricities of the townsfolk. There's the flirtatious librarian who drives the bookmobile, the chain-smoking, wrestling-obsessed pharmacy assistant, the Baptist priest who uses poisonous snakes during his sermon, the lawyer who conducts meetings with a loud radio playing so his wife, his assistant and town gossip, does not eavesdrop on his conversations. These are just a few of the people who make up the town of Big Stone Gap.
Our heroine, 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan, is the town pharmacist and the town spinster. She's unique in this small mining town in that she's Italian. In the beginning of this novel we learn that Ave Maria had already lost her father, Mr. Mulligan who was raised in Big Stone Gap, several years back. Ave Maria explains that Mr. Mulligan was a tough man whom she did not get along with very well. We also learn early on that Ave Maria has also lost her mother. Her mother, we learn, died just a few months before the start of the novel. This death was hard on Ave Maria as she and her mother, who was born and raised in Italy, were very close.
As the novel progresses, Ave Maria discovers that her mother had kept some secrets from her. Most importantly, that Ave Maria had family in Italy. Ave Maria's life gets thrown for a loop as she works to discover where she comes from and who she is. Along the way, she is faced with challenges of identity, love and sacrifice.
While she does push the boundaries of a Gentle Read, Trigiani's novel is that of a simpler time. She does well in developing the small town feel. The reader really gets a sense of what this town is like and who these people are. Trigiani does mention sex, though not explicitly, and does use minimal soft curses. Overall though, this is a pleasant, feel-good book. I wouldn't say that I fell in love with this book though. Honestly, I did not feel as though I was ever fully absorbed by it. I think this was because I felt that Ave Maria's character could have been developed a little more fully. There were times when I almost felt that our heroine was overshadowed by the town itself. The town and the townsfolk were really what made this novel for me though.