“Satisfying reading…As skillfully as Ms. Trigiani makes us laugh, she makes us cry.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Delightful… Trigiani’s unerring portrayal of singular personalities that make up the small southwest Virginia town brings humor and poignancy to Ave’s richly drawn life in Big Stone Gap. … As always it is the day-to-day details of life in the charming backwater town of the Big Stone Gap that make the story shine.” –Publisher’s Weekly
1- 8oz package Cream Cheese
1/4 tsp peppermint oil or other flavoring
2-1 lb packages of powdered sugar (fine)
Cream the cheese. Add the flavoring. Mix well. Add the sugar mixing until creamy. (Can use food processor using 1⁄2 of recipe at a time.) If more than one color is desired, separate the dough at this time. Mix in the coloring as desired using hands to mix. Wrap in plastic to prevent drying. Pinch off enough to place in molds. Before placing in mold, dip in granulated sugar, then place in rubber mold. After molded, pop out onto wax paper. Dry thoroughly. Will freeze or keep in refrigerator in airtight container for several weeks.
1. Why do you think the author set BIG STONE GAP during the late 1970s instead of today?
2. The coal mines are the site of danger and oppressiveness, while the caverns Ave Maria and Theodore visit reveal the beauty hidden deep in the earth. How does this dichotomy reflect Ave Maria’s inner world during her yearlong crisis?
3. As the novel progresses and Ave Maria learns more about herself and her past, her feelings for Big Stone Gap change from contentment to disassociation to joy. Have your feelings for your hometown changed as you’ve changed? How?
4. Ave Maria refers to herself as a “ferriner,” but when she visits Italy she realizes that her home is in Big Stone Gap. What other works have you read in which the hero or heroine must travel to find his or her home in the world?
5. Ave Maria’s description of some events, such as kissing Theodore after the Drama and Jack Mac’s reaction to her gratitude for bringing over her Italian family, differs from other people’s perspectives. Do you believe Ave Maria’s interpretations? Why or why not?
6. Theodore and Ave Maria have romantic feelings for each other, but never at the same time. If their feelings had been more coordinated, do you think they would have entered a lasting marriage? Do you think their “best friend” relationship will endure after Ave Maria and Jack Mac’s wedding?
7. When did you suspect that Ave Maria would fall in love with Jack Mac? What were the clues that the author left?
8. Jack Mac tells Ave Maria, “Stop thinking.” Is Jack Mac correct? Does too much thinking lead Ave Maria into making the wrong choices? Are her emotions a trustier guide or equally unreliable?
9. A common theme in literature is that the heroine (e.g., Snow White, Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Nancy Drew) must lose a parent or parents before she is free to discover who she really is. Is this merely a literary convention or does it have roots in real life? Does it apply to male characters as well? How much significance does Mrs. Mac’s death have to Jack Mac’s personal development?
10. Ave Maria feels relief and not much surprise when she learns Fred Mulligan is not her father, and later she recognizes aspects of herself in Mario. Though Fred is not her blood kin, what traits did he pass on to Ave Maria while he raised her? How much of Ave Maria’s personality was shaped by nature and how much by nurture?
11. When describing her friend Iva Lou, the majorette Tayloe, and Sweet Sue, Ave Maria focuses on the power of beauty and desirability, but she also cautions Pearl that beauty fades while character endures. How does Pearl synthesize the importance of character with the force of beauty?
12. Both Ave Maria and Worley discover their fathers aren’t who they thought they were, but Worley learns of his true parentage when his father is still alive. Do you think Ave Maria’s expectations of love and marriage would have been affected if she had learned the truth about Mario before her mother died? How?
13. Ave Maria is named for the mysterious woman who took Ave Maria’s mother under her wing. Do you see another meaning in Ave Maria’s name? Does it tie in with her developing belief in destiny and faith?
14. Milk Glass Moon, Adriana Trigiani’s next novel about the people of Big Stone Gap, jumps forward eight years into Ave Maria and Jack Mac’s marriage. Knowing these two characters as you do, do you expect the path of true love to run smoothly for them? What quirks do Ave Maria and Jack Mac bring to the relationship that could cause bumps or, conversely, even out the way?
1. Big Cherry Holler is a sequel to the bestselling Big Stone Gap. Does it help to read Big Stone Gap before delving into Big Cherry Holler? How did the author structure this book as a stand-alone novel, and how does it function as a continuation of the first book?
2. What is the significance of the title Big Cherry Holler, both literally and figuratively?
3. When the book opens, Ave Maria and Jack Mac have been married for eight years. How have her attitudes about herself and about relationships changed during that time? How has she remained a “spinster” in spirit?
4. Early in the book, it’s disclosed that Jack and Ave’s son, Joe, died after a sudden illness. In what ways do Jack and Ave deal with his death, both separately and together? How does their marriage bear the scars of their son’s untimely death?
5. What role does small-town life–both in Italy and in Big Stone Gap–play in Ave’s life? How do the mammoth physical attributes of the outside world play against her life?
6. Ave Maria sees Jack Mac chatting with a tanned, blond woman named Karen Bell, and immediately feels anxious. What evidence of marital estrangement accumulates after that incident? What aspects of Karen’s personality do you think would appeal to Jack Mac?
7. How does Ave Maria see Karen Bell as a rival, and in which ways does she feel superior to her? Which feeling ultimately proves more accurate?
8. Were you surprised by the revelation of Theodore’s homosexuality? Which clues–both in this book and in Big Stone Gap–are provided before his confession? How do you think this will affect his relationship with Ave?
9. When Ave’s protege, Pearl, pleads with Ave to become a partner in the pharmacy, she signs on without consulting Jack Mac (much to his chagrin). What other decisions in her life does Ave keep to herself? Is Jack justified in his anger, or does he, too, keep some aspects of his life private? Which ones?
10. Ave’s daughter, Etta, is a main character in the book. Ave describes her as “wide open, and yet very private.” What parallels can you draw between Ave and Etta, and how are the two characters different? How is Etta a product of Jack Mac’s influence? How does she cope with her brother’s death?
11. How do the women of Big Stone Gap–Fleeta, Pearl, Iva Lou–function as a sort of Greek chorus for Ave? How does Ave affect each of their lives, and how do they, in turn, influence hers? How has each woman evolved throughout the two books?
12. The reader sees Ave Maria in a brand-new environment when she travels to Italy. Which facets of her personality come to the forefront? To what factors do you attribute this change in attitude and appearance?
13. While in Italy, Ave imagines what her life would have been like had her mother not married Fred Mulligan. How do you envision Ave’s life if she had grown up in Italy? Would it have been more or less fulfilling?
14. Ave’s haircut spurs an absolute transformation. In which other ways does her appearance play a role throughout the book? Of which other novels is this reminiscent?
15. What does Pete represent to Ave, both literally and figuratively? How does he reawaken passion in her?
16. Theodore dismisses Ave’s assertion that she didn’t really have an affair with Pete. How is this juxtaposition of “word vs. deed” a recurrent motif in the book? What examples can you find in the behavior of Ave, Jack Mac, and their friends?
17. When Jack Mac and Ave have their confrontation about Karen Bell, Ave admits that she wanted him to “take her pain away.” Besides Joe’s death, what other issues has Ave Maria grappled with throughout her life? How has she usually dealt with any pain she has suffered?
18. Do you believe that Jack Mac consummated his affair with Karen Bell? What evidence do you have for that conclusion?
19. Jack Mac tells Ave, “I truly believed in us, and you never did.” What actions echo Jack Mac’s assertion? How does Jack Mac demonstrate his love for Ave?
20. At the end of Aunt Alice’s life, Ave makes an effort to reconcile with her. To what do you attribute this change of heart? How does Ave’s relationship with Alice compare to the one she enjoys with her “Eye-talian” relatives?
21. What significance do you derive from the fact that Jack Mac and Pete get along immediately? What does Pete’s appearance in Big Stone Gap, as promised, indicate about his character? How is he similar to Jack Mac, and how is he different?
22. Do you feel that this book is a lead-up to Etta’s stand-alone story? How do you envision Etta’s adolescence and adulthood?
23. Adriana Trigiani, the book’s author, also is an accomplished playwright. How does this novel have the feel of a play–whether through Trigiani’s use of dialogue, setting, conflict, or any other literary device?
1. Milk Glass Moon is the final book in the Big Stone Gap trilogy. Does it stand on its own as an individual novel? Which themes from Big Stone Gap andBig Cherry Holler carry over intoMilk Glass Moon?
2. What does the symbol of the milk glass moon signify? Also, through Etta’s interest in astrology, Trigiani presents stars as prominent reoccurring images. What significance do the stars have in the novel?
3. Why does Ave Maria experience so much friction with Etta, when they have had such a good relationship in the past? Do you think their problems arise from normal adolescent angst, or do they stem from deeper issues? How do you think Ave Maria and Etta’s relationship would be if Ave Maria’s own mother were still alive?
4. Is Ave Maria too hard on Etta for her mistakes, in particular the coal and drinking incidents? Do you think she overreacts, given the fact that she had very different perceptions from the other characters, or is she justified in her decisions? How do you think Ave Maria’s actions would appear to the reader if she were portrayed in third person, without the inner dialogue we are privy to?
5. Ave Maria and Jack display apparent differences in their reactions and outlooks throughout Milk Glass Moon, especially in the area of parenting. How do you think they have sustained their marriage? What sacrifices have they made for each other? Why does their marriage work?
6. When Ave Maria sees Pete in New York City, old feelings stir within her. Why does Trigiani bring Pete back into the picture? What do you think would have happened if Ave Maria had chosen Pete over Jack? How would their marriage be different? Do you think Ave Maria’s physical reactions to Pete are problematic?
7. Ave Maria describes Pete as being the only person who can see the girl in her. What does she mean? Which qualities in particular does Pete pull out of her? Would you pick comfort over excitement, like Ave Maria ultimately does, or vice-versa?
8. Ave Maria believes that it’s easier for women to have close relationships and intimate friendships than men. Do you agree with her? Given the history between Ave Maria and Pete, what do you think about Pete and Jack’s friendship?
9. Ave Maria is presented with choices throughout the course of Milk Glass Moon; she is tugged between locations, men, and time frames. How do you think she goes about making decisions? If you were her, would you have made the same choices?
10. Ave Maria sometimes seems to be torn between her desire to live in a small town and her wish to explore the allure and excitement of places like New York City and Italy. Throughout the novel, Ave Maria explores the downsides as well as the upsides of living in a small town, and in certain moments, it appears that Ave Maria hasn’t quite gotten over the difficulties she long ago experienced in her transition to a small town. Where do you think she ultimately belongs and feels most comfortable? Do you think she and Jack would be happy living in Italy, as their plan at the end of the novel suggests? What kind of environment are you most comfortable in, and why?
11. Does Ave Maria’s personality change when she’s in a location other than Big Stone Gap? Which hidden qualities we don’t usually see in her persona emerge?
12. Etta tells her mother that she knew she was meant to marry Stefano when she was eight years old. How do issues of fate and destiny play out in Milk Glass Moon? In general, do you think every event has a reason for happening?
13. According to Etta, Ave has trouble getting attached to people. Do you think her statement is true? What are some examples that either support or disagree with it?
14. Three different kinds of marriages are explored throughout the novel … those of Ave Maria and Jack, Iva Lou and Louis, and Etta and Stefano. How do they compare?
15. Throughout the course of three books, Ave clearly progresses through various encounters she never planned on facing. How do you think she has changed from the beginning of the trilogy? Which kind of strengths has she gained? Which personality traits has she held onto?
16. Does Trigiani wrap up everything neatly, or does she leave room for any future developments in Big Stone Gap world? Is there anything from these characters that you would like to see more of? Do the themes and characters’ situations in Milk Glass Moon come full circle or is anything left unresolved?
1. In one of the early scenes in HOME TO BIG STONE GAP, Ave Maria’s friend Theodore Tipton sends her a postcard that states, “Start living your life for you.” By the end of the novel, has Ave Maria taken this advice?
2. When the prospect of using mountaintop removal as an alternative form of coal mining is raised to Ave Maria and her husband, Jack, Ave Maria is instantly against the idea. Do you think she has considered both sides? What exactly is at stake in her argument with Jack about this issue?
3. Why does Trigiani include the character of Randy in her novel? What is the significance of the similarities between Randy and Joe, as well as between Randy’s mother and Ave Maria? What does Ave Maria learn from Randy?
4. Do you think it’s fair for Ave Maria to confront Iva Lou about her mysterious past? What lasting effects does this experience have on Ave Maria and Iva’s relationship? What would you do in the same situation?
5. According to Ave Maria’s experience, a woman’s method of coping is to “make things pretty when the road gets rocky,” while Jack “wants facts, answers, and drop-dead ultimatums.” Do you generally agree with her assessment of her husband? How do men and women deal with crises differently?
6. Reflecting upon Etta’s move to Italy, Ave Maria says, “Maybe fate is the footwork of decisions made with loving intentions.” Do you think this is true? What examples from the book support this claim? What examples challenge it?
7. How does the trip to Scotland affect Ave Maria’s relationships with Etta and Jack? Do you feel that any transformations have occurred?
8. Bridges, both literal and figurative, are an important symbol throughout the novel. Why is one of Jack’s goals to build a bridge? What sorts of bridges are constructed—and dismantled—throughout the course of the novel? Finally, how do you interpret Ave Maria’s statement that “Jack needed to build it, if only to know the deep river that runs through Cracker’s Neck Holler”?
9. Perhaps more so than any of the other novels in this series, Home to Big Stone Gap grapples with the theme of loss. One of Ave Maria’s major challenges throughout the book is learning how to let go and come to terms with moving on. In what ways has she accomplished this by the end of the novel? In what ways is she still hanging on? How do Ave Maria’s experiences compare with your own?