Big Stone Gap – a quick read about an eccentric mountain town and a self-proclaimed spinster

If you are unfamiliar with “Big Stone Gap,” the book is about a real town in the Virginia mountains written by Adriana Trigiani. There was also a movie called “Big Stone Gap” made about the book starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey and Jenna Elfman. Plus, you may remember a true story included in the book, when Elizabeth Taylor, while visiting with her Senate candidate husband John Warner, choked on a chicken bone in the town at a welcome dinner in the late 1970s.

The book revolves around the main character, a thirty-five year old pharmacist named Ave Maria Mulligan. Her mother was born in Italy, so the name is not as unusual as it sounds, but is still not common. The pharmacy was owned by her stern father who had passed away years ago. Her mother has just passed away when the book picks up. Another key character is a mining friend named Jack MacChesney, who goes by Jack Mac. Judd and Wilson play the lead characters in the movie which was co-written and directed by the author.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Ave Maria is an avid book reader and her best friend is Iva Lou (played by Elfman), the woman who drives the bookmobile into the library-less town once a week. Iva Lou is unmarried as well, but she encourages Ave Maria to be more like she is with her healthy libido. Ave Maria also has a big heart and busy calendar as she is one of the two EMTs in the area, directs a regional theater performance about the town, and is best friends with the very creative high school band director named Theodore (played by Hickey).

Her mother taught her Italian as a shared hobby her husband did not know about. Ave Maria felt her relationship was always strained with her father and the book reveals how she discovers why this was the case. And, as an important context to the story, her mother was an expert seamstress and did pro bono work for band uniforms, prom dresses, and wedding dresses in this relatively poor mining town. This goodwill endeared her too many including Jack Mac.

If you love small towns, the book will hit home with its local flair. Goldberg plays Fleeta, a pro wrestling loving clerk at the pharmacy. You will learn who the gossips are and why very few stories are private. You will love the eccentricity and become frustrated with the stubbornness of some of the characters, including Ave Maria, who stiff-arms suitors.

You will treasure and be proud of Ave Maria standing up for the disenfranchised, like a young heavy-set teen named Pearl who gets picked on and others in need of work. She is also friends with her customers and delivers medicines to those who cannot get out. You will like Ave Maria, as do the town residents, but she will frustrate you as well, like a sibling or good friend sometimes do.

If you have not read it, give it look. It is a quick read. It won’t solve world hunger, but it is a nice distraction, which we all need. Let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Big Stone Gap – a quick read about an eccentric mountain town and a self-proclaimed spinster

    • Thanks. I deleted that from the piece, as I could not find confirmation of the two brief stories that had different dates of her supposed death. One site said it was still confirming. But, her own site and wikipedia did not reveal any change.

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