2024 Tournament of Books: The Guest vs The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

So many of the match-ups in this year’s tournament have felt like we were looking at two books dropped in from different universes, in many cases with radically different ideas of what a novel could be. This match-up, on the other hand, is between two books that fit comfortably into high-school me would consider to be novels. Both are plot driven with identifiable characters and conflicts.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store floats through a wide cast of characters making it never entirely clear who the protagonist of the novel will be. It’s more a novel about a complex community of immigrants and Black Americans thrust together by their alienation from the mainstream white protestant society. The characters do what they can to fight back against their oppresors and, eventually, prevail in a way.

I wrote a wonderful little mini-essay reconsidering the strengths of The Guest when put next to The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store seeing the thematic similarities unveiled. Then I looked at the schedule and realized I had misremembered who had won the last round and that I should be writing about The Librarianist instead. Oops.

The Librarianist, to my mind, felt too meandering to really stand up against Heaven & Earth. The first three parts of the book, turning to earlier and earlier portions of the protagonist’s life didn’t really feel like they cohered in the way that the parts of Heaven & Earth did, so I find myself choosing The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store to advance without any reservations.

My judgment on the judgment

While I didn’t feel that The Librarianist was a better book than The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, I didn’t dislike it as much as Johanna Fateman did. Nevertheless, we both agreed that The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store was the book to go to the finals. setting us up for a rematch of the left side of the brackets semifinal tomorrow.






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