Friday, February 19, 2016

Rest in Peace, Big Ang

by Traci Tyne Hilton @TraciTyneHilton

Angela Raiola, lovingly called “Big Ang,” passed away of stage four brain and lung cancer last night, and I was heartbroken.

I didn’t know her personally. I’ve never even been to Staten Island. I knew her the same way the rest of American did…from Mob Wives.

She was a soft spoken woman with the craggy voice of someone who happened to have a tumor the size of a lemon on her vocal cords. Old pictures running around the internet show she used to be a tall, thin woman with a pretty, delicately featured face. The TV showed her as a tall woman with a well developed bust and huge lips. They called her Big Ang, not because of her lips, her height, or her bosom. She earned the name because of her big heart.

Big Ang was a business woman, a grandmother, the wife of a much younger man, and in the past, a coke dealer.

Like all the Mob Wives, she was frank in her speech, loyal in her friendships, and immodest in her dress.

So, why did I care so much when I heard that she had passed?

Because she was the anti-hero you could love.

Big Ang was a flawed character. She had a past that you didn’t approve of, but was so kind, so reasonable, and so gentle with people around her that you couldn’t help but want the best for her. When Mob Wives (I have not seen any of her spin off shows, but I suspect they too showed this side of her) introduced characters for the sake of drama, Ang was the voice of reason, encouraging the other girls to accept people in spite of their flaws, to enjoy people for who they were without expecting them to change. “She’s a fun girl. She knows how to have a good time. I like her,” was  often the first thing Ang said about someone.

On a show where women rated each other by the significance of their husband/father’s crimes, she rated women by if they were easy with a smile, and could laugh at a joke. In a world where being fast with your mouth and tough with your fists was most important, she was kind with her words, and open with her friendship.

She was a loving mother, devoted to her son’s successful break from a life of crime. She was a doting grandmother who couldn’t wait to meet her new namesake granddaughter. And she used to sell cocaine. Which is a horrible thing to do.

And yet, I loved her, the way you fall in love with characters.

And I want readers to fall in love with my characters. So I will be processing Big Ang, and what it means to be a lovable, but human character for a long time.

I’m grateful that she shared her life with us on TV because I think I will be a better person for having gotten a glimpse of it, and I know I will be a better writer if I consider what made her so lovable as I create my own bigger than life characters.

What anti-heroes have you found, in books and in life? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below. 


Traci Tyne Hilton is the author of The Plain Jane Mysteries, The Mitzy Neuhaus Mysteries and the Tillgiven Romantic Mysteries. Traci has a degree in history from Portland State University and still lives in the rainiest part of the Pacific Northwest with her husband the mandolin playing funeral director, two busy kids, and their dogs, Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin.

More of Traci’s work can be found at


  1. My favorite fiction is almost always written for intermediate reading (grades 4-8 ish). And, among my favorite authors, is Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, and The Great Gilly Hopkins). In her book The Same Stuff as Stars, the grandma - Erma Morgan - has been treated badly and done some pretty thoughtless things as a result. But I know that her life is built on a foundation of pure love, even when she refuses to visit her dying son's bedside. She is a picture of someone who wants desperately to do the right things, but the past and its demons have her all bottled up. She is a difficult person that you just want to hug.

  2. Jacob Have I loved is one of my favorite books. Those unforgettable characters are complicated and endearing at the same time. What a great example!