Welcome home to Big Stone Gap! by by Adriana Trigiani
Big Stone Gap is the story of Ave Maria Mulligan, a 35-year-old self-proclaimed spinster living in the hills of southwest Virginia, where “coal was king”. Her mother, Fiametta, is an Italian immigrant with a mysterious past her daughter must unravel. Ave Maria’s father, Fred Mulligan, was the town pharmacist, and she takes over the business after he dies.
It’s 1976, the year Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Senator John Warner visited the town on a campaign stop. Ms. Taylor chokes on a chicken bone after sampling a wing at a fundraiser, thus ensuring a particular notoriety for my hometown forever. However, there was much to recommend about Big Stone Gap before Elizabeth Taylor’s unfortunate accident put it on the map. It was also home to John Fox Jr., the novelist who wrote The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, published in 1903. It was the highest selling novel in America prior to Gone With the Wind.
At its heart, Big Stone Gap is about being “other” in a place where folks are defined by their job and kin: what you do and who your people are determine how you live and love. As an outsider, Ave Maria eventually finds her purpose and true love. Of course, her quest is not without its complications. Despite her flaws and longing, she builds a life, home and family in the hills that she desperately longed to leave. In the swath of these four novels, she grows up. She becomes a mother. She returns to her ancestral home in the Alps of Italy and connects with her long lost family. She reaches deep into the Scots Irish lineage of her husband’s coal mining family. One year, Ave and Jack live in Scotland.
You will meet Ave Maria’s closest friends, Fleeta, Iva Lou and Theodore . You will come to love Appalachia and its people. These novels are about a woman who grows and changes, suffers and repents, forgives and moves on. It’s also about a woman who learns, over the course of her life, to love more deeply. These novels might be hilarious on one level, but truthfully, they are rooted in a faith journey that every person born either embarks upon or chooses to sit out, hoping that life itself will present its meaning.
I am thrilled that you can read all four novels at your leisure, taking a deep dive into Big Cherry Lake with Ave Maria. The depths are often forbidding, but when the sun breaks through on High Knob, illuminating the glorious mountains, reflected in those crystal waters, everything seems clear.
I recently visited the fictional Ave Maria’s homestead (also my maternal grandmother’s) in Schilpario, Italy. Ave Maria finds her roots, and with them, the strength she needs to live a life of meaning. You will read along as she finds her way. You will root for her as she heals her broken heart. You will find yourself on these pages. A good story does that, you know, it includes you on the journey. Welcome to Big Stone Gap!