THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE BY JAMES MCBRIDE. (Image: DC)
The craftsmanship of a soulful musician emerges through each page of celebrated bestselling author James McBride’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. Set in the 1970s, the book opens with the discovery of a skeleton at the bottom of an abandoned well in the grimy eastern Pennsylvania factory town of Chicken Hill area in Pottstown. The area has been marked for redevelopment of a residential project.
The residents are a potpourri of poor working-class local black Americans and immigrant Jews who have lived quietly for decades. Suddenly, the question of whose skeleton it is and how it landed at the bottom of the well is on the minds of the investigators. But a crime always has the habit of leaving some or the other clue behind. In this murder story, it is a belt buckle and pendant. Old-timers of Chicken Hill have been tight-lipped about it and have kept the secret under wraps for over four decades. The shuffles back to the 1930s.
James McBrideMcBride’s characters and imagery are extremely powerful. There are times when the book has a fairy-tale quality to it and then suddenly you are thrown in the throes of things around the murder mystery. McBride has a way with his characters with warts and all. Be it Moshe Ludlow, the Romanian Jew and local theatre owner, his ailing wife Chona, Doc Roberts or little Dodo, each character literally jumps out of the page. The author has complete command over his language which seamlessly flips between profound, dry wit, racy, and a languorous lyrical grace. For example: "One’s tribe cannot be better than another tribe because they were all one tribe." There is poverty and fear in Chicken Hill, but it also has compassion and people with a heart of gold. Simple folks who do not have much, but are still willing to share and bring a little joy in other people’s lives.
THE HEAVEN & EARTH GROCERY STORE
Author: James McBride
Publisher: Riverhead Books