The One Where Wench Barb Made Wench Merit Read a Book

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

When this challenge came up I became a bit anxious, what if I get a book I can’t read? Or one I won’t like? I hate it when I have to be negative. After all, someone invested time, engaged a mind and did his/her best to bring a story to life, who am I to judge it? I have not been able to write a story (yet). Life went on and I confess I forgot this post idea, until about a month ago when we got a reminder that this year is about to end. Hesitantly I asked Barb for her book recommendation and she came up with this one, and I knew I had a real challenge on my hands.

This story centers on 35 year old spinster Ave Marie Mulligan, her life story and fight to find a sense of self amid life in a small Virginia coal town.

From Goodreads:
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the tiny town of Big Stone Gap is home to some of the most charming eccentrics in the state. Ave Maria Mulligan is the town's self-proclaimed spinster, a thirty-five year old pharmacist with a "mountain girl's body and a flat behind." She lives an amiable life with good friends and lots of hobbies until the fateful day in 1978 when she suddenly discovers that she's not who she always thought she was. Before she can blink, Ave's fielding marriage proposals, fighting off greedy family members, organizing a celebration for visiting celebrities, and planning the trip of a lifetime—a trip that could change her view of the world and her own place in it forever.

Why Big Stone Gap for Merit?
There aren't many UF/PNR books that I have read that Merit hasn't. Actually, I'm not sure there are any. So I wanted to pick something that was different, that I had enjoyed, and that I thought Merit would like as well. When I was teaching I didn't have much time for reading, only managing a few books a year, and it was during that time that I was introduced to Adriana Trigiani via her book Lucia, Lucia, after which I was hooked. Since then I've read everything she's written and loved it all. I was originally going to suggest Lucia, Lucia, but wanted to recommend for Merit something that she could continue if she wanted, when I discovered that Big Stone Gap was being made into a movie, currently filming in Big Stone Gap, VA! It felt like kismet to me, so that's what I told Merit to read. Did she like it? Click through to find out!

I must confess to fighting my way through reading the first half of the book, and feeling much better going through the second half of the story. Maybe because almost to the half line, the story is filled with Ave Maria's thoughts, and almost nothing else. Ave Maria's story unfolds very slowly, with long sentences, and almost no action. There are a lot of paragraphs explaining about the town, the people and the area, too many for my taste. I felt it dragged on and on. That was a real challenge for me!

But then I passed about 50% of the story and somehow things changed, became more alive, there was a plot to read, action to see.

I compare it, in my mind, to two canvas drawings, the first is in monochrome, with very few color spots here and there (one lovely spot of color is Iva Lou Wade, Ave Maria's friend, who drives a bookmobile around the area and dispenses advice about life, romance and men), and then you see this other canvas full of colors and light, and you smile; that is the second part, where Ave Maria makes a surprising revelation, one that changes her life perspective. She meets new people, people she knew nothing about a few months ago, she gets two marriage proposals and is forced to evaluate her life and wants in a way she never did before.

“All your life you was one thing. And now you can be something else if you want! Somebody completely different. You can actually start yourself over from scratch. Turn yourself into what you have always wanted to be!” 

Ave Maria's character is endearing, she is independent, compassionate and caring, her inner search journey is impressive and well written, though I have a tiny rant: I didn’t like the feeling that nothing will make her happy unless she can marry, as if marriage equals happiness. She is a grown independent woman, has her own home, a successful business, good friends and full life, but it is as if all this is nothing without marriage. I know she is looking for love, but somehow it made me feel like the marriage was the important factor here.

I loved the scenery and the settings. This way of life is so very different from what I’m used to, this is part of what made the story interesting for me. Same goes for the characters around Ave Maria, they came to life slowly but surely, they were quite well portrayed and gave me a true sense of the life in this small town. I must say that reading the southern/mountain dialect was an interesting experience and sometimes made me smile.

I think the strength of the plot lays in the characters, weaving them all together made the story loveable.

All in all I like the story even though I had some difficulties connecting to it. I have a hunch that part of Barb's decision for this story is because it is so far and different from my world.

To sum it up: I would never pick up this book by myself, but I do want to thank you, Barb, for making me read it. I do like doing (or reading) stuff which is not really "me" or my style, it brightens up life.

P.S. There’s a movie in the making starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson and  Whoopi Goldberg.

My rating would be 3 1/2 lips, but there are no half lip, so 3 lips will have to do.


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