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Reading James McBride’s ‘The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store’

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James McBride’s novel “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” was one of the most celebrated books of 2023: A critical darling and a New York Times best seller, it appeared in August on the cover of the Book Review, where the poet Danez Smith called it “a murder mystery locked inside a Great American Novel” and praised its “precision, magnitude and necessary messiness.”

Opening with the discovery of a skeleton in a well, and moving from the 1920s to the 1970s in its depiction of a multicultural Pennsylvania neighborhood, the book centers on residents’ efforts to protect a deaf Black child from institutionalization, but spirals to encompass so much more. On this week’s episode, the Book Review editors MJ Franklin, Joumana Khatib and Elisabeth Egan convene an informal book club to discuss their own reactions to McBride’s novel. (Listener beware: Their conversation contains spoilers.)

“This is one of those books that after I finished and had some time digesting it, that’s when I was like, Wow, this book did something so spectacular and so special,” Franklin says. “It just like kind of radiates love and community and togetherness and all of these feelings — it felt like it planted a seed in my heart and then continued to flower, to use a very saccharine, robust metaphor.”

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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