Big Cherry Holler

Big Stone Gap

Milk Glass Moon by Adriana Trigiani
(Random House, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-375-50618-7
Adriana Trigiani returns to fine form in Milk Glass Moon, her third Big Stone Gap Novel, after a disappointing sophomore effort, Big Cherry Holler. Nothing extraordinary happens and there are no bad guys, but if youíre in the mood for some homespun wisdom and colorful characters, youíll feel right at home with Ave Maria Mulligan MacChesney, her family and her friends.

Former town spinster Ave Maria and miner-turned-construction worker Jack MacChesney live in relative bliss in their small southwest Virginia hometown, near the Tennessee border. Their 12-year old daughter, Etta, is an ongoing source of frustration for Ave, who canít quite figure out how to connect with the headstrong adolescent. Luckily she has the support of her best friend, librarian and retired sexpot Iva Lou as well as long-distance wisdom from Theodore Tipton, musical director for UTís marching band. Her connection to her late motherís family in northern Italy is also a great source of comfort. Over the course of the next six years, Ave travels to New York City and Italy, deals with her friendsí health and career crises, and navigates the challenges of being wife and mother. Despite the occasional appearance of Pete, the handsome man who tempted Ave to break her wedding vows in Cherry Holler, she remains deeply in love with her husband and feels confident that the marriage problems they had four years ago are well behind them.

Milk Glass Moon is more lighthearted than the gloomy Big Cherry Holler, although itís not lightweight. Ave struggles with issues of parenting and aging, and mature readers will recognize and identify with her concerns. She is also at that point in life where she can make peace with her choices without whining or wondering what would have happened if she had taken a different path. But sheís not stagnant either - she, as well as Iva Lou, Theodore and Jack, make critical decisions that enable them to grow in new ways, even at the venerable age of 50-plus.

Trigiani, a native of the real Big Stone Gap and a television screenwriter for The Cosby Shows and others, has a simple yet lyrical style that neatly balances tenderness and humor. Aveís insight arenít unique, but theyíre stated with honesty and clarity. The peculiarities of small town life, especially the inability of the townspeople to keep a secret about one of their own, are portrayed with fondness and without condescension. The plot might have been more intriguing if there had been a few negative characters - even the cab drivers in New York City are friendly! - but that would have meant sacrificing some of the bookís good-natured appeal.

One of the most endearing aspects of Milk Glass Moon is the joy that Ave takes in her marriage to Jack. They are very different, but they understand each other and have learned to communicate, so that fear and resentment no longer build up and create barriers between them. Despite a few twinges of attraction for Pete, Ave realizes ďI have exactly what I have been looking for all of my life. When you honor someone, he owns you. Jack MacChesney owns me, and maybe thatís the only part of love that lasts.Ē

Trigiani has signed a four-book deal with Random House, but itís not clear if sheíll be writing more Big Stone Gap novels or starting fresh with new characters. Meanwhile, if youíre a fan of the Mitford books or other series about gentle small-town life, you will enjoy this authorís distinctive voice. Itís not absolutely necessary to read the books in order, but to fully appreciate Ave Mariaís journey you should start with Big Stone Gap, tolerate the melodramatic Big Cherry Holler and relax with Milk Glass Moon. Ave Maria and the gang are waiting for you with a friendly smile and a big piece of chocolate Coca-Cola cake.

--Susan Scribner

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