Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Well, well, well. What does one talk about when one is no longer on the road, visiting family and friends, and seeing new places? In the past month, I’ve been sitting in Smith River, and yesterday was the first time I’ve driven further than Brookings or Crescent City, 15 miles north and south respectively. Yesterday I drove to Eureka for some last minute Christmas shopping and also to meet a wonderful man, a retired Humboldt State University professor and Shakespeare scholar, with whom I shared lunch and a two hour conversation that covered a vast variety of topics. I look forward to future conversations with Jack.

What I have been doing over the past month is reading. Reading, of course, was my first love, and that love is what drove me to earn a Ph.D. in literature from Berkeley. As many of you know, however, I came to the realization that loving to read and studying literature were antithetical, especially in the day when literary theory was king. Given the choice, I chose reading and thus gave up my dream of being a professor myself. That decision was made thirty some years ago, so I really can’t complain about it at this point.

I’ve also been reading other blogs on line (goes without saying, doesn’t it), and have seen that most people don’t write 2,000 word essays for each posting. For the time being, I, too, will write shorter pieces, and I’ll work on getting them out more often. My thought is to share with you, my faithful readers, my thoughts on the books I’m reading, the movies I’ve seen and the music I’ve been listening to. In short, the blog will become a series of reviews, with one review per blog. I know that this is not what you’re used to seeing from me, and if you wish to be removed from my mailing list, please be sure to let me know. As always, all you have to do is ask and there will be no hard feelings on my part.

With that said, I’d like to start out by talking about Adriana Trigiani’s novel Big Stone Gap. I saw the book on display at Barnes and Noble several years ago, and was intrigued by the title. Big Stone Gap is a location in western Virginia, the narrow neck of the state that separates West Virginia from North Carolina, wholly in the Appalachian mountains. As you know, I have a great interest in all things Appalachian, and Big Stone Gap has a further interest in that a dear friend and former University of Montana colleague followed his heart and married a woman from the area. Last I heard, Bill was mayor of Big Stone Gap.

I didn’t buy the book when it came out in 2000, but have been keeping it on my “to be read” list ever since. When I first met my cousin Ron Stephens in early October, he was reading the book. I asked him if he was enjoying it and let him know that I planned on reading it myself. When he finished the book, he handed it to me. I don’t think he planned on me actually stealing the book, but that’s what I did. While still in West Virginia, I was busy reading other works, preparing for the lecture I would have to give as a candidate for hire at West Virginia University—Parkersburg. The lecture I never had to give, as it turns out. Packing up to leave Ron’s home and return to the West, I packed Trigiani’s book with the intent of reading it and shipping it back to Ron. (Ron, if you’re reading this, it will be coming back to you next week.)

Big Stone Gap is the story of Ave Maria Mulligan, the town pharmacist who also directs the annual community theatrical pageant and serves as an EMT for the region. She is single, newly orphaned, and at one of those turning points we all face in our lives. I had picked the book up because it was set in Appalachia. I didn’t expect to be reading the story of my own life.

Ave Maria grew up knowing that her mother was an immigrant from Italy who had married her Scotch-Irish father and followed him to Appalachia. Mother apparently had secrets that she did not see fit to share with Ave Maria until after her death. These revelations, in the form of a letter given to our heroine by her lawyer, lead Ave Maria to question everything about her existence, and send her on a quest that ultimately brings her Italian family into her life—a family she knew nothing about prior to reading her mother’s letter.

The book is populated by a wonderful cast of characters, most of whom are well fleshed out. These are people we probably know in our own lives. Iva Lou Wade, who drives the Wise County Library bookmobile, is a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it. Jack Mac, the bachelor son of one of the community’s pillars, is the strong, mostly silent coal miner who is proud of his new Ford pickup. Pearl Grimes is the poor and overweight high school girl always put down by the leaders of local high school society.

The book is a great read, one where secrets are revealed and hearts probed. If life is a journey, then Ave Maria embarks on a trip that will sweep you up and take you along for the ride. Once into the book, I had trouble putting it down, and was pleased to learn that Trigiani has written a series of books about Ave Maria and her neighbors and friends in Big Stone Gap. I just picked up the second book in the series, Big Cherry Holler, which I’ll tell you about later. Oh and by the way, most of Ave Maria’s neighbors think her name is Ay-vuh (like Ava Gardner) not Ah-vay (like the prayer).

Should you wish to pick up a copy of Big Stone Gap has it available. Just click on the image below.

I didn’t make it to Big Stone Gap, Virginia while on my travels. The closest I came was Bluefield on the West Virginia/Virginia state line. That means I don’t have any relevant photographs to share at this time. But every now and then you can get along without pictures, right?

Till next time.

1 comment:

Carl said...

FYI: More on Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is an American novelist.

Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and in 2001 wrote a novel about the town titled Big Stone Gap. It was followed by three sequels, Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, and Home to Big Stone Gap. Aside from that series, she has written Rococo, Queen of the Big Time, and Lucia, Lucia. She also co-wrote a cookbook with her sisters, appropriately titled Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap.

Adriana attended Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, as did the Italian heroine of Big Stone Gap, Ave Maria Mulligan.

Adriana was a writer for The Cosby Show and also for its spinoff series A Different World. She spent a decade working in film and television before beginning on novels.

Literary Works


* Big Stone Gap
* Big Cherry Holler
* Milk Glass Moon
* Lucia, Lucia
* The Queen of the Big Time
* Rococo
* Home to Big Stone Gap


* Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap