BOOKS: Deacon King Kong: James McBride

Deacon King Kong

There's something magical about James McBride's novel, "Deacon King Kong."

It's the same kind of magic that fills the pages of John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row."

It's a mix of colorful characters, bleak humor, rich storytelling of place and an overwhelming sense of the humane in humanity.

McBride does not write some pie-in-the-sky novel of optimism here but instead he pens a book filled with hope that people can sometime transcend experiences, conditions, locations and situations to ultimately be their best selves.

"Deacon King Kong" is a nickname for a man who already has a nickname in his neighborhood – Sportcoat. 

Cuffy Lambkin is called Sportcoat because he always wears a sports coat and a porkpie hat as he performs small chores and coaches youth baseball in his neighborhood of the housing projects set in southern Brooklyn. He's less frequently called "Deacon King Kong" because he is a deacon in his church and he is quite frequently drunk off a homemade liquor called King Kong.

Set in the late 1960s, the book opens with Sportcoat walking up and shooting the project's main drug dealer. He doesn't kill Deems, the drug dealer, nor does he recall shooting the young man either. After all, Sportcoat wonders, why would he shoot the most talented ball player from his coaching days? But everyone knows Deems will not forget he's been shot and who shot him.

But since he can't recall shooting Deems, Sportcoat isn't concerned about it. Instead, Sportcoat is concerned about finding the Christmas fund missing from the church since his wife passed away. 

McBride tells a rich story here filled with wonderful details and misadventures. 

"Deacon King Kong" is the type of book many readers won't want to put down nor will they want it to end.

It received many great notices, listed by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2020 and selected as part of Oprah's Book Club.

"Deacon King Kong" deserves every accolade.

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