Ave Maria Mulligan is fascinated by Chinese face reading; she thinks she can tell someone's character by the areas of their face. Time and again in "Big Stone Gap," she analyzes faces in order to divine people's behavior and character. Although Ave Maria is skilled at reading the faces of the (somewhat stereotyped) folks of "Big Stone Gap," she hasn't a clue about her own face or character.

Ave Maria is having a premature midlife crisis, brought on by her continued spinsterdom, the death of her mother, and a revelation about the circumstances surrounding her birth: the man Ave Maria always thought was her dad is not, in fact, her father. Amid two marriage proposals, a mine accident, a visit by Elizabeth Taylor to the town, town gossips, mean elderly relatives, and cruel cheerleaders' tricks, Ave Maria handles the trauma with surprising grace.

Even Yankees will love this (slightly saccharine) Southern town, a sort of southern Lake Wobegon, and the charming heroine who learns about love and death, faith and character.

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