Deacon King Kong – by James McBride – independent book review – Fiction

DEACON KING KONG presents a fascinating and WILDLY different picture of people living in and around a city’s housing project than the one we see portrayed in the media. Award-winning author James McBride uses one isolated event to reveal the web of individuals, interconnectedness and caring that lies beneath.

It’s September 1969 in Brooklyn, NY. A drunk man shoots a neighborhood drug dealer. Then McBride leaps into exploring all the different ways locals are affected. All the while brilliantly weaving in some truly big themes: the complexities of drug culture, child abuse, mafia exploitation, gender roles, importance of church community, how relationships change over time, and how we all come to understand ourselves better as we age.

Along the way, you will meet some interesting and distinctive characters, including:
• Deacon Cuffy Jasper “Sportcoat” Lambkin – a beloved sports coach and lifelong alcoholic
• Deems Clemens – a once aspiring baseball player
• Thomas Elefante – a man running a variety businesses, both legit and non-legit
• Hettie – the shooter’s dead wife
• Sgt. Potts – a demoted police officer, desperate to reach retirement.
• Bunch Moon – a ruthless drug lord

James McBride
photo from his Website

This is NOT a story about some hostile inner city environment: instead, it’s a story of neighborhood where African-Americans, Latinx, and Caucasians live and/or work together. In fact, we see that more limited financial resources may even encourage people to pay closer attention to one another’s lives, care more deeply about each other, and rely more on a commitment to faith. Like everyone else, they have big hopes and dreams for the future. And like everyone else, some are realized, some aren’t.

All the relationships McBride explores feel honest. They are both deep and nuanced. And the story feels a bit like a mystery where you don’t fully understand everything that happened until the very end. No wonder this is a New York Times bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick. I learned a lot. Highly recommended.

More about the author, James McBride.

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