I don't know if there is a sound lonelier than the silence of everybody gone. This is the morose frame of mind in which we find Ave Maria MacChesney, heroine of the best-selling Big Stone Gap trilogy. With her young daughter (too young, in Ave Maria's opinion) newly married and living in Italy, Ave Maria is restless. She doesn't find her usual fulfillment in her work as Big Stone Gap's pharmacist, and her ailing husband, Jack, is considering a job with a mining company that could spell environmental catastrophe for the tiny Virginia town. Worst of all, Ave and her best friend Iva Lou aren't speaking, after a blowout argument over a secret from Iva Lou's past. Adriana Trigiani has detoured from the comfortable confines of Big Stone Gap in recent years, using her apparently vast imagination on wildly varying subjects: a 1950s male interior decorator (Rococo), an ambitious New York seamstress (Lucia Lucia), turn-of-the-century Italian farmers (The Queen of the Big Time), even a cookbook (Cooking with My Sisters). She's a consistently appealing storyteller, whatever the subject matter. Still, it must be said: It's good to come home to Big Stone Gap. Trigiani's light touch yields a realistic portrayal of small-town life sometimes bucolic, sometimes as constricting as a too-small shoe and a cast of charmingly imperfect characters: Pharmacy employee Fleeta Mullins tartly passes judgment on customers, an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. The usually wise Iva Lou fumbles when she has to confront her checkered past. And Ave Maria and Jack just can't seem to agree on Jack's new career.
In an attempt to get back on track, they make a trip to Jack's ancestral home in Scotland. But they soon learn that even the lush green hills of Aberdeen can't compare to the comforts of Big Stone Gap and readers will certainly agree. Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.