A writer's career normally features peaks and valleys, but it's difficult to discern a ravine in the output of James McBride.

From his bestselling 1995 memoir, "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother," to his last novel, "Deacon King Kong," an Oprah's Book Club pick, he hasn't missed. McBride's "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" lives up to expectations, delivering an entertaining, meaningful story about the community formed when people take advantage of America's opportunities for cross-cultural connection.

As "The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store" opens in 1972, state troopers discover a skeleton at the bottom of a well in the Chicken Hill neighborhood in Pottstown, Pa. To unfurl the tale of how that skeleton came to rest there, McBride jumps back to 1925, painting a picture, rooted in historical fact, of "a tiny area of ramshackle houses and dirt roads where the town's blacks, Jews, and immigrant whites who couldn't afford any better lived."

McBride writes in an appealing, omniscient voice, introducing a host of memorable characters. The novel blooms into a new story each time a different character assumes the focus, but it focuses on the tight connection between two couples: one Jewish and one Black. Moshe Ludlow, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, is a theater owner booking his venues with klezmer music and jazz greats such as Chick Webb. His wife, Chona, has a "bad foot" from childhood polio and grew up in the neighborhood, working in her family's grocery store.

When Moshe suggests they move, like most other Jews have, she refuses. Chona is too invested in Chicken Hill, where she allows families to buy so much on credit that the store never turns a profit. Nate Timblin helps Moshe run the theaters and first gives him the idea to welcome Black musicians. Nate's wife, Addie, is Chona's fast friend.

So when Nate and Addie take in their deaf nephew Dodo after his mother dies, but learn state authorities want to send him to the notorious Pennhurst "nuthouse," Chona offers to hide Dodo. No one expects the police to look for a Black child in a Jewish family's home. But Dodo soon ends up in a jam that only the entire community, working together, can fix.

"The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store" is unflinching in its portrayal of America's treatment of Black and Jewish citizens. But it also shows how two dynamic communities band together to make their own justice, provide their own social safety net, and even furnish their own utilities by tapping into pipes when the city fails to provide running water. It is full of colorful stories of speakeasy proprietors, snooty bigwigs, hapless rabbis, stone-cold gangsters and intimidating cobblers. In the end, McBride braids all these stories together in a way that is cohesive, satisfying and hopeful.

Jenny Shank, whose books include "Mixed Company" and "The Ringer," is on the faculty of the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

By: James McBride.

Publisher: Riverhead Books, 400 pages, $28.