Reviews of Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Deacon King Kong

by James McBride

Deacon King Kong by James McBride X
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2021, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

From James McBride, author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, comes a wise and witty novel about what happens to the witnesses of a shooting.

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project's drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride's funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood's Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters--caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York--overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.

1
Jesus's Cheese

Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of Five Ends Baptist Church became a walking dead man on a cloudy September afternoon in 1969. That's the day the old deacon, known as Sportcoat to his friends, marched out to the plaza of the Causeway Housing Projects in South Brooklyn, stuck an ancient .38 Colt in the face of a nineteen-year-old drug dealer named Deems Clemens, and pulled the trigger.

There were a lot of theories floating around the projects as to why old Sportcoat — a wiry, laughing, brown-skinned man who had coughed, wheezed, hacked, guffawed, and drank his way through the Cause Houses for a good part of his seventy-one years — shot the most ruthless drug dealer the projects had ever seen. He had no enemies. He had coached the projects baseball team for fourteen years. His late wife, Hettie, had been the Christmas Club treasurer of his church. He was a peaceful man beloved by all. So what happened?

The morning after the shooting, the daily gathering of retired city ...

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Reviews

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Page after page is devoted to character sketches and descriptions of the many tiny facets of life in the Projects. Although the novel often feels a bit like a collection of short stories, all the little vignettes add up to an enormously effective portrait of the community as a whole as well as the people that comprise it. When the plot does kick in (somewhere around pages 200 to 250) it's engaging and moves along rapidly, if somewhat improbably. Black vs. white racial conflict isn't a major theme — or, rather, it's so all-encompassing that it's more a state of being, an undercurrent humming along just below the surface of the entire story...continued

Full Review (802 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Associated Press
With many plot twists and spellbinding scenes, Deacon King Kong becomes a partly comic but deeply poignant rumination on race and love. . . . The narrative flows seamlessly from buoyant and comical black jive to somber, pitch-perfect descriptions of the histories and hard lives of those doing the talking.

Entertainment Weekly
McBride returns with an improbably hilarious tapestry of late '60s Brooklyn, and an eclectic group of individuals that bore witness to a fatal shooting.

The New York Times Book Review
Deacon King Kong is deeply felt, beautifully written and profoundly humane; McBride’s ability to inhabit his characters’ foibled, all-too-human interiority helps transform a fine book into a great one.

The New Yorker
The sheer volume of invention in Deacon King Kong—on the level of both character . . . and language—commands awe. . . . And the sentences! The prose radiates a kind of chain-reaction energy.

The Washington Post
A hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy set in the Brooklyn projects of the late 1960s. This alone may qualify it as one of the year’s best novels. However, McBride . . . has constructed a story with a deeper meaning for those who choose to read beyond the plot, one that makes the work funnier, sweeter, and more profound.

Time
Readers of The Good Lord Bird will recognize shades of McBride’s hilarious dialogue and an attention to detail that reveal a complex local history.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence. An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
With a Dickensian wealth of quirky characters, a sardonic but humane sense of humor reminiscent of Mark Twain, and cartoonish action scenes straight out of Pynchon, McBride creates a lived-in world where everybody knows everybody's business. This generous, achingly funny novel will delight and move readers.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Masterpiece! The Writing Is So Extraordinary, It's a Powerful Force Field of Its Own
This remarkable, heartwarming book by James McBride is truly an original. It's a masterpiece of a story that is unlike anything I have ever read. It's funny. It's tragic. And it's nearly perfect. The book is a character-driven roller-coaster ride...   Read More
Sallie

Race/Religion/Crime
Totally different than anything I’ve read in a long time. The story opens to fast moving dialogue and so many different characters that it’s sort of overwhelming. If you experience this, you just have to go with the flow, because somewhere along the...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

American Pokeweed

American pokeweed In James McBride's novel Deacon King Kong, Sportcoat spends his Wednesdays helping an elderly Italian woman scour the parking lots of their Brooklyn neighborhood for plants — weeds, really — that she feels compelled to "rescue." One plant she obsesses about finding is pokeweed, a poisonous shrub she believes can help lower her blood pressure if prepared correctly.

The pokeweed — or Phytolaccaceae — family is comprised of about 100 different species found around the world, generally in tropical and subtropical locations. A few varieties exist in North America, but for the most part the only widely distributed native on the continent is American pokeweed (phytolacca americana), which is common in much of the ...

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Read-Alikes

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