Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Summary (from the publisher): It's 1978, and Ave Maria Mulligan is the thirty-five-year-old self-proclaimed spinster of Big Stone Gap, a sleepy hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She's also the local pharmacist, the co-captain of the Rescue Squad, and the director of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the town's long-running Outdoor Drama. Ave Maria is content with her life of doing errands and negotiating small details-until she discovers a skeleton in her family's formerly tidy closet that completely unravels her quiet, conventional life. Suddenly, she finds herself juggling two marriage proposals, conducting a no-holds-barred family feud, planning a life-changing journey to the Old Country, and helping her best friend, the high-school band director, design a halftime show to dazzle Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed Hollywood movie star who's coming through town on a campaign stump with her husband, senatorial candidate John Warner.
My thoughts: I read this one for a few reasons - I read Trigiani's Rococo in 2006 and really enjoyed it, I'm always on the lookout for Southern lit, and I went through a bit of a small-town phase last year and added a bunch of books with that type of setting to the TBR list.
This book stirred up all kinds of feelings in me! I loved the first page (see the quotes below) and thought it boded very well. But at first I thought I really didn't like Ave Maria. In fact, I was very near the end before I decided I really did like her. Yet after I started writing about it, I found I really liked a whole lot about this book! Strange.
Rosanne Cash described Ave Maria as "so real" - and it's really true. Most first-person narratives are good for letting you learn about the character, but in this book all of Ave Maria's thoughts and feelings (at least the ones she's aware of) are laid out - even when she's confused and doesn't really know what to think. Sometimes I was just as confused as she was, and irritated when she couldn't seem to make up her mind (that was why I thought I didn't like her).
But in the end, I found I really had quite a lot in common with her - she found a wonderful husband who loved her, quirks and all (I've been similarly fortunate) and she worries incessantly (Jack tells her she's been practicing it for 37 years; I once won a Girl Guide "award" as the "best worrier" and I think I could still hold my own in a cage match for that title today .)
The secondary characters are also great - Iva Lou the bookmobile driver who thinks she's God's gift to men (and they seem to agree), Fleeta the chain-smoking pharmacy cashier who loves pro wrestling, and teenaged mountain girl Pearl Grimes whose potential Ave Maria invests in.
And in all the blurby stuff at the end, I was very pleased to see that there is a Big Stone Gap and Italian girl Adriana Trigiani grew up there, just like Ave Maria. For some reason I always get a kick out of authors sharing experiences with their characters. I see that there are 2 sequels, I think I'll have to add them to the TBR list!
First line: "This will be a good weekend for reading."
Second paragraph: "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 . . . 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."
Another favourite quote: After her husband has told her to "stop thinking" because there's a crease between her eyes that never bodes well, Ave Maria tells him it's her third eye: