Big Cherry Holler
by Adriana Trigiani
Big Cherry Holler, the extraordinary sequel to Big Stone Gap, takes us back to the mountain life that enchanted us in Adriana Trigiani’s best selling debut novel. It’s been eight years since the town pharmacist and long time spinster Ave Maria Mulligan married coal miner Jack MacChesney. With her new found belief in love and its possibilities, Ave Maria makes a life for herself and her growing family, hoping that her fearless leap into commitment will make happiness stay. What she didn’t count on was that fate, life, and the ghosts of the past would come to haunt her and, eventually, test the love she has for her husband. The mountain walls that have protected her all of her life can not spare Ave Maria the life lessons she must learn.
Big Cherry Holler is the story of a marriage, revealing the deep secrets, the power struggle, the betrayal and the unmet expectations that exist between husband and wife. It is the story of a community that must reinvent itself as it comes to grips with the decline of the coal mining industry. It is the story of an extended family, the people of Big Stone Gap, who are there for one another especially when times are tough—including bookmobile librarian and sexpert Iva Lou Wade Makin, savvy businesswoman Pearl Grimes, crusty cashier Fleeta Mullins, and Rescue Squad captain Spec Broadwater, who faces the complications of his double life. Ave Maria’s best friend Theodore Tipton, now band director at the University of Tennessee, continues to be her chief counselor and conscience as he reaches the pinnacle of marching band success.
When Ave Maria takes her daughter to Italy for the summer, she meets a handsome stranger who offers her a life beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ave Maria is forced to confront what is truly important: to her, to her marriage, and to her family. Brimming with humor, wisdom, honesty, and the drama and local color of mountain life from Virginia to Italy, Big Cherry Holler is a deeply felt, brilliantly evoked story of two lovers who have lost their way and their struggle to find one another again.
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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
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
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. w 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?
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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