I just finished reading The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride.
I have not read his other books, Deacon King Kong and The Good Lord Bird, but I just might read them now, as I enjoyed this book. Someone asked me what this book was like, and I said it was a bit like Phillip Roth and Walter Mosely co-wrote a novel and asked for Laura Esquivel to throw in a few ideas. The setting is Chicken Hill, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in the 30’s, where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side.
The novel begins with a skeleton found in a well along with a mezuzah. It ends with the reader learning who the skeleton is and why the mezuzah. Finding out is not unsatisfying at all. The novel explores bigotry, hypocrisy, prejudice, and deceit. The characters you will like transcend all of that and focus on kindness and community. So much love happens in the storytelling. There are lovable rascals and unlovable racists. All the ugly people get what they deserve.
One of my favorite characters is Miggy, a sort of Gullah voodoo queen, who helps out by not saying aloud what one should do to save a young boy, but makes a map out of a piece of sweet potato pie while telling a story so that everyone present knows exactly what to do to save the boy. Another of my favorites is Paper, who sees all and bends the actions of others to her will. The loveliest of all the characters is Chona, who runs the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. Also memorable is her husband, Moshe, and their friend, a local black worker, Nate.
The characters have flaws and they bicker among themselves, but in the end they have higher principles and act accordingly. Just like in real life.