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?
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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