Wednesday, March 5, 2008

small-town spinsterhood?

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Challenge: A-Z (author)
Summary/Review: I started this book with high hopes; I'd heard such good things about Trigiani's other books (especially Lucia, Lucia). But I was more than a little disappointed. I found the writing to be trite, and the characters' behavior too often inexplicable.

This book is supposedly about how Ave Maria, the "town spinster" of Big Stone Gap, finds herself and finds love over the course of a year. I suppose that she does, but there were too many improbable things in the story to make either of her discoveries believable.

One discovery that is believable: after her mother dies, Ave Maria is given a letter that her mother wrote and left in the care of her lawyer. The letter explains that the man Ave Maria has thought of as her father (who died many years before the story begins), isn't, and that her real father is an Italian man that her mother had to leave behind when she became pregnant. So far, fine. Part of what results is that the family of her erstwhile father come clamoring for what they see is now their inheritance, including the house Ave Maria grew up in and the pharmacy business she now owns and runs. What does Ave Maria do? Rather than fighting this based on the fact that her father's will gave all of his property to her mother, who then gave it to her (although this is mentioned), Ave Maria chooses to protect the assets from the grubbing relatives by transferring the whole thing to her 16-year-old assistant! And as if that weren't improbable enough, she then begins to separate herself from the every-day running of the business and leaves it in the teenager's "capable hands"!

Moving on. At 35, Ave Maria is thought of by the town and by herself as a spinster. She prizes herself on her independence, although she wishes she could fall in love with someone who would want to marry her. But, when someone she's known since childhood suddenly proposes to her, she says no, thinking that he's only asking her out of pity, or is playing some kind of trick on her (this I found eminently believable, because if someone up and proposed to me without any sign that they had any special feelings for me, I'd feel the same way!). The man in question gets mightily offended, but doesn't stop trying. Unfortunately, he also doesn't really do anything to demonstrate that he's loved her since they were children (we don't find this out until much later). So why should either we, as readers, much less Ave Maria, believe that he's madly in love with her? Apparently, all her friends knew he was in love her, but we're not told any single thing that he did to demonstrate it. What's more, they apparently knew that she was in love with him, even though we're not told what she may have said or done to give that away. And, none of them will tell her what they've so sneakily observed. Ave Maria does eventually feel all the love, and they get married quickly, and seem very happy. Which is great. Except I don't believe it.

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