Big Stone Gap comes home

in Fiction by

You don’t often read a novel that is equal parts funny, romantic and heartwarming, but Big Stone Gap, by Adriana Trigiani, is exactly that. It’s no wonder that the book (and it’s three sequels!) have a rabid following, with fans across the world eager to read more and more about Ave Maria and her life in the quaint, Appalachian town of Big Stone Gap. After years of trying to see it adapted for the big screen, the book has recently been made into a movie starring Ashley Judd and Patrick Wilson—guaranteeing an even wider audience for Trigiani’s beloved story.

Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani

At the heart of the Big Stone Gap series is Ave Maria Mulligan, a self-proclaimed spinster at 35 who owns the town’s pharmacy, is the director of the local theater productions, and even acts as a pseudo-rescue worker. The first book starts in 1978, and Ave’s mother has died only months before, leaving her a letter and some long-buried secrets about her father. These secrets inevitably shake up Ave’s predictable, small-town life. Soon she finds herself juggling marriage proposals, falling in love, and discovering a whole new family.

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The book takes the reader to surprising places—there’s even a cameo by Elizabeth Taylor—but its quirky characters are the true stars of the series. The locals include people like Iva Lou, the blonde-bombshell driver of the Wise County Bookmobile; Pearl Grimes, an awkward high school student who Ave takes under her wing; and Jack Mac, the local coal miner who can’t seem to take his eyes off Ave.

Trigiani grew up in the real town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and like Ave she straddled two cultures: rough mountain life and her Italian heritage. When the author left Appalachia, she started working in television and movies, including as a writer and producer for The Cosby Show. So it makes sense that Big Stone Gap was originally written as a screenplay. It was in 2000 that Trigiani adapted it into a novel, immediately connecting with readers who were longing for a fun, sweet story about a little mountain town.

Big Stone Gap 3

The movie version came out in select theaters on November 6, with a wider release hopefully coming soon. Trigiani wrote and directed the film, which she shot entirely in Big Stone Gap. It’s a love letter to a place that clearly holds a place in her heart, a place that fans can’t help but fall in love with, too. If the movie is anywhere as charming as the books, then we know it’s bound to be a hit.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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