Adriana Trigiani may be best known for her Big Stone Gap trilogy, but with The Queen of the Big Time, she has created another love story: romance, love of family and love of a close-knit small town life. The title refers to an annual pageant the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania have each year that carries on the old-world tradition from the days when the town's residents left Italy looking for a better life in America.
The narrator of the story is Nella Castelluca, who is the middle daughter of a hardworking farm family. She aspires to a life in town and is offered a chance when her teacher sees Nella's potential and offers her a chance to go to high school in town, which was not the common thing for working families of the 1920's. Her hopes are dashed when her father is injured in an accident at the slate quarries, where he works extra to keep the family afloat. Nella must drop out of school and go to work at a local factory.
Nella meets the handsome Renato Lanzara and is smitten with him, even though he is twenty-one and she is only fourteen. His attitude and poetry make him like catnip to both Nella and all the young women of Roseto. Still, their friendship blossoms into a sizzling romance and Nella is certain she will marry "the man of her dreams". Renato disappears suddenly without any explanation and Nella is heartbroken. Renato shows up four years later just as Nella is to marry Franco Zollerano, who has been her stalwart friend.
The story follows the lives of Nella and her family from the 1920's until the 1960's with all the love, tragedy and humor that is inherent to human existence. This book on CD is read by the author, which gives it a special flavor since only the author can give emphasis to all the small nuances that go into the story. Although, the copy I listened to was abridged the plot seemed fully fleshed out with an excellent exposition and epilogue. This was a treat to listen to and I will continue to read or listen to works by this author as she is an expert on telling a tale with engaging characters that will make you laugh and cry.