Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Many, many years ago, I had a dream I wanted to move to the small-town America seen in my favourite movies. Movies such as The Goonies, The Family Stone or Gilmore Girls complete with quirky characters and neighbours who whilst knowing everyone's business, also looked after each other and brought you sheet cakes baked from recipes handed down through generations. Spoiler Alert - I didn't move to the US, but I do currently live in the British version of it and I love it.
Big Stone Gap epitomises this small town feel and features in my Top 10 favourite books. It was first released when I was a bookseller and had a quote on the cover from Sarah Jessica Parker. Yes! Carrie Bradshaw loves this book. I bought it immediately, I think I may even have nabbed a poster from work (sorry Nigel!). It's truly a little gem of a book, homely and comforting.
Ave-Maria Mulligan lives in the town of Big Stone Gap in the Appalachian Mountains where she works as a pharmacist, volunteer responder and director of the Town's theatre production of Lonesome Pine. It is the 1970's and Ave is mourning the loss of her beloved mother. In a letter her mother has left her, Ave discovers that her father is actually a man from Italy, not Fred Mulligan as she previously thought. Her mother fled pregnant and alone to America where Fred Mulligan agreed to marry her. Ave feels lost she has no idea who she is anymore, her home no longer feels like home and so she makes the monumental decision to sell up and travel round Italy to find her Italian family. But the residents of Big Stone Gap won't let her go so easily.
Trigiani's storytelling is wonderful and it is not a great shock to discover that she grew up in Big Stone Gap. The portraits of the characters are painted with fondness and love and are a massive part of the novel. Characters such as Iva-Lou Wade, who drives the bookmobile and the men of the town wild and Reeta, the chain-smoking, wrestling obsessed colleague and friend. Ave-Maria's story is a thread running through the lives of the townspeople who concern themselves with Ave-Maria's future and her friendship and love for Jack McChesney.
Part of the story is also based on real life events when the movie actress Elizabeth Taylor visits the town with her husband, John Warner who is seeking election to the US Senate. During the visit, Taylor choked on a chicken bone whilst at the Town's feast and was taken to hospital.
These stories are told with an easy pace so that it almost feels like finding out about a friend's day over coffee. It forms the back-drop to Ave-Maria's journey of who she is and where your home truly lies.
This novel is truly heartwarming, cosy and joyous. I would read this on a rainy Autumn day with a cup of tea and something heavily calorific like coconut cream pie.