FICTION

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

Riverhead Aug. 2023. 400p. ISBN 9780593422946. $28. F
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Chicken Hill, a pre–World War II Pennsylvania community, doesn’t seem like much: it’s poor, with no running water and a population consisting of multiple marginalized groups—Jewish, Black, Italian—all struggling, scheming, and hoping for the best while writhing in seemingly intractable disappointment. But in this latest from McBride (Deacon King Kong), their defeats evolve into triumphs. In this complex novel, McBride takes a mash-up of plots and over a dozen main characters, each with his or her own history, and weaves them together seamlessly with humor, empathy, and a determined sense of justice. The final third of the book focuses on a conspiracy by the people of Chicken Hill to rescue one of their own, a Deaf, Black, 12-year-old orphan named Dodo, from a nightmarish state asylum like something out of Dickens. Dodo was committed to this house of horrors through the treachery of a local doctor and KKK leader, Doc Roberts. But fortune has a way of flipping things around, sometimes in the right direction, and McBride ends the novel with so much poignancy and heartfelt sympathy for his characters that readers will be hard-pressed not to be moved.
VERDICT A compelling novel, compellingly written, and not to be missed.
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