...with the collection Five-Carat Soul, McBride demonstrates a new aspect of his talent. These brilliant miniatures display all of the rambunctious fearlessness of his deeply empathetic imagination ... The result is a pinball machine zinging with sharp dialogue, breathtaking plot twists and naughty humor. This makes Five-Carat Soul a delight. At the same time McBride also plumbs the vast emotional terrain underneath performances of masculinity, questioning what it is to be a man rather than a woman rather than a boy rather than a beast ... Nearly all of the stories hum with sweet nostalgia, and some even dispatch the kind of moral one would expect from a fable or a fairy tale. When this works, it feels as if McBride has happened upon a new genre ... we see McBride at his brave and joyous best, building worlds of dizzying variety and range.
The writer and musician James McBride proves once again that he is a master conjurer of African Americana with his new book of charmed, imaginative short stories, Five-Carat Soul ... Full of humor, down-home vernacular and slightly twisted nostalgia, McBride’s coming-of-age stories about this crew’s adventures go down like warm milk sneakily spiked with a shot of whiskey ... McBride is at his best in this off-kilter mode. Last year’s nonfiction offering, Kill ‘Em and Leave, saw McBride recounting his investigation into the life and times of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with similar gusto and flare. He just goes for it, and the results once again are funny, strange and touching.
Anyone who enjoyed James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, the swaggering picaresque about a runaway slave that won the 2013 National Book Award, will be instantly at home with the stories in his new book Five-Carat Soul ...motley collection wields the same narrative bravado and acerbic sense of humor to peek at American history from unusual angles ...centerpiece is a quartet of stories set in a poor neighborhood of Uniontown, Pa., around the time of the Vietnam War ... The book’s single fault is that these characters are so engaging and their world so richly conceived that the four stories only whet the appetite for more.
As a social commentator, McBride would no sooner indulge in didacticism than the rap-loving Gatekeeper would indulge in Dixieland. The author of the National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird possesses a biting wit, but disarms it with his calm, plainspoken style ... A consummate entertainer, McBride has the comic energy and antic spirit of Richard Pryor ... For all his good graces, McBride takes pleasure in skewering people driven by self-interest and indifference. There's a lying lawyer who mistreats his guides and a fellow climber during his trek on Mt. Everest. And there's a TV news reporter who helps sensationalize a Chinese grocery store shooting: 'If she was two-faced, I think she could've used the other one.' If that doesn't sum up the current state of the union, I don't know what does.
Five-Carat Soul opens with such a masterpiece that it can’t help but create impossible expectations for the rest of the book. The tales certainly deliver variety as McBride alternates historical narratives with fantasy, parable, and Vietnam-era memory pieces. But the results are mixed.
The stories in James McBride’s latest book, Five-Carat Soul, often feel like parables ... McBride’s storytelling gifts, showcased in his National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, are on full display in Five-Carat Soul. The characters are disparate, but McBride is such an agile writer that each voice feels authentic and somehow familiar. Taken together the stories speak, if not directly to one another, to a greater humanity and wisdom we all desire. Each story gently or subversively leads to a revelation that you turn over and over. They feel like fables even when the characters are dealing with the ugliest bits of reality ... In his author’s note, McBride says the stories have come to him over the course of nearly 35 years. They feel like kinfolk, if not the direct progeny, of his other novels and even nonfiction work ... Yet the work is not derivative. It crackles with the bright energy of an author who — when he’s not writing prose — is an accomplished jazz musician. It’s there in the way the teens of Uniontown rib each other, never missing a conversational beat. It’s present in the way the animals riff when they talk to each other through their cages. These are stories of and from the soul.
...[a] wonderful debut short story collection ... Some are straightforward; some are gleefully surreal. And every one of them is brash, daring and defiantly original ... There's no reason that a story featuring telepathic zoo animals should work, but McBride pulls it off; in his hands, the fantastical tale turns both heartbreaking and triumphant. That's an accurate way to describe McBride's entire collection. The stories in Five-Carat Soul vary widely in style and setting, but they're all linked by the author's compassionate sensibilities. The characters in this book — human and otherwise — feel real and beautifully drawn, and their stories are bound to stay with readers for a very long time.
...eclectic and delightful … McBride makes the blunt statement that in American politics, society, and culture, black bodies are expendable. They contribute to American culture, but they do not receive reparation or political and economic capital in return from the body politic … McBride’s fantastical surrealism expands the possibility for readers to consider the meaning of freedom in a mess of complex capitalist, racial, and religious dynamics … His characters carry a vibrancy and a layered density.
McBride has let fly a dexterous and strategically doleful collection of short stories called Five-Carat Soul. So many of the warm stories gently nuzzle perfection, and at its best, his pages function as an idyll of light-skinned lit, a category distinct from the once-dominant 'wypipo shit.' Only when the author gets chintzy with the music does the writing cease to soar ... In the world where formulations like 'for' and 'gived' every youngster who’s granted a voice in Five-Carat Soul has their own distinct flavor of innocence. Not a single sentence feels hemmed in by the imagination limits of white editors. There’s not a double-negative or repetition out of place, and McBride never gets ahead of the beat. Your heartbeat ... Make no mistake: Every story in Five-Carat Soul brings a professional spit-polish, but with severely diminished input of children, much of what follows the eponymous section lacks magic. And magic is everything with this cat. The lesser pieces are well-executed tricks that pay off with minimal flourish. Previously unthinkable, James McBride transforms into just another guy.
McBride’s short stories joyfully abound with indelible characters whose personal philosophies are far wiser than their circumstances allow ... Whatever the situation, McBride’s protagonists encounter life’s foolishness and futility courtesy of their outlier status, yet their compassion and wisdom put them at the heart of the most salient and critical junctures confronting humanity. McBride brings the snappy satire that endeared him to fans of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the courage and pathos that shone in The Miracle at St. Anna to this stellar collection of short fiction.
A versatile, illustrious author brings out his first short-fiction buffet for sampling, and the results are provocatively varied in taste and texture; sometimes piquant, other times zesty ... McBride exhibits his formidable storytelling chops in an array of voices and settings that, however eclectic, are mostly held together by themes of race history and cultural collisions. As with most story collections, some selections work better than others; but those that do resonate profoundly ... McBride emerges here as a master of what some might call 'wisdom fiction,' common to both The Twilight Zone and Bernard Malamud, offering instruction and moral edification to his readers without providing an Aesop-like moral.
Humming with invention and energy, the stories collected in McBride’s first fiction book since his National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird again affirm his storytelling gifts ... One of two groups of linked stories reimagines the animal world, while the other visits a gritty neighborhood of Uniontown, Penn., during the Vietnam War as teenagers grapple with limitation and longing. McBride adopts a variety of dictions without losing his own distinctively supple, musical voice; as identities shift, 'truths' are challenged, and justice is done or, more often, subverted.