Big Stone Gap
Adriana Trigiani. Random House (NY), $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50403-7
A wholesome Cinderella story with a winning blend of '70s nostalgia and Appalachian local color, Trigiani's debut introduces a likable heroine who's smart but obtuse, needy but rejecting, and generous with affection but afraid of love. Ave Maria Mulligan is the daughter of the late pharmacist of Bit Stone Gap, Va., and an immigrant Italian seamstress. She inherited the pharmacy when her father died, but it's only her mother's recent death that made Ave realize that, at 35, she's the town spinster. Not that she lacks for attention. Handsome Theodore Tipton, the high school band and choral director, is her best friend, and sexy bombshell Iva Lou Wade, who drives the book mobile that Ave eagerly awaits, is around to offer romantic advice. Plainspoken, direct and humorous, Ave has an amusing foible: having discovered a book on the Chinese art of face reading, she describes everyone in terms of the personality traits their facial features ostensibly demonstrate. In her self-deprecating assessment, Ave has ""a mountain girl's body, strong legs, and a flat behind."" So when Theodore proposes, and then takes it back, and mountain-man Jack MacChesney then also offers matrimony--out of pity, Ave assumes, so she rejects him--she's near despair. Moreover, a letter left by her mother informs Ave that her real father is a man who lives in Italy. Ave's emotional turmoil takes place against a colorfully detailed tour of Big Stone Gap's history and attractions, including its summer drama festival and its designation as the home of Appalachian bluegrass. Even the actual 1978 visit of senatorial candidate John Warner and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, plays a part in the story. In the tradition of romantic heroines, Ave is unable to recognize true love until it's almost too late, and meanwhile, there are some fairy tale touches, such as the arrival of her entire newly discovered Italian family. What saves the narrative from sentimentality and invests it with charm is Trigiani's witty voice, her tart-tongued but appealing heroine and her ability to recall the cultural details that immerse the reader in the atmosphere of her little mining town. Agent, Suzanne Gluck at ICM. 150,000 first printing; 9-city author tour; rights sold in the U.K, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Spain. (Apr.) FYI: Trigiani has been a playwright, the founder of a female comedy group, a writer for the Bill Cosby show and other TV series, and a documentary filmmaker.
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000