Deacon King Kong by James McBride

In a novel that derives its title from the smoothest but most potent bootleg liquor in the projects, McBride has given use a taste of all the characters in the neighborhood… The protagonist is Sportcoat, a lifelong drunk and church deacon who does odd jobs around 1969 Brooklyn. One day apropos to who-knows-what he takes his old hand gun and tries to shoot the local drug dealer. Sportcoat doesn’t remember a thing and the young man survives. Revenge is on the table.

A few blocks over is a low level Italian mobster who makes deliveries, stores things, and does a little construction work, but has yet to slide into the drug game. Tangentially connected to the incident at the Cause Houses, but has trouble of his own when a ‘friend’ of his father’s shows up with information about a long lost treasure…

There’s also the black not-so undercover cop who may be a little reckless and his white mentor. And the several bit players who hang out at the square outside the housing units, and the members of Sportcoat’s church. They are all memorable and written with undeniable love.

Yes, this plot (I don’t want to get too into it) is entrancing, but it’s the witty and lush language that McBride employs that made me turn the pages. I read ten pages describing the path of an army of ants through the basement and the many floors of one of the buildings, passing by the Latin and African American neighbors. The domino of Sportcoat’s shot touches all and it is not just an external shock, but challenges these men and woman to look in the mirror.

A mesmerizing novel of cared-for characters. A collection that are intimately connected whether they like it or not and whether they realize it or not.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Books, and the author for an advanced copy for review.


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