The author of the National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird returns with a tale about late 1960s Brooklyn, examining the aftermath of a shooting at a housing project through the lens of those touched by the crime: the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the neighborhood's Italian mobsters, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where protagonist "Sportcoat" was deacon, and Sportcoat himself.
The sheer volume of invention in Deacon King Kong—on the level of both character (the first chapter alone introduces twenty individuals by name) and language—commands awe. Reading it is like watching a movie in which one’s occasional impulse to ask questions is pleasantly swamped by the need to keep up with the pace of events ... And the sentences! The prose radiates a kind of chain-reaction energy. After some chapters, you feel empathetically exhausted, in the way you might feel drained by watching an overtime football game. The experience of traversing a simple flashback paragraph is like trying to leap from stone to stone across a river, except occasionally one of them turns out to be not a stone after all but a lily pad, or a shadow, and into the river you go ... A consciously suppressed anger emerges only rarely, but often enough to make you read the comedy differently. It’s as if any sentence in the book would, if allowed to flow all the way to its digressive end, empty into the pool of injustices that put these characters in the Cause Houses to begin with ... In Deacon King Kong, narrative omniscience leaves room for despair, as it must, but its over-all energy never flags. Sometimes the most affirmative thing you can do, as a storyteller, is to service that story’s momentum, in the hope that there’s some just reward for everyone in the end.
Sportcoat is the vexatious heart of James McBride’s cracking new novel...like something out of Zora Neale Hurston updated by Paul Beatty ... Deacon King Kong is many things: a mystery novel, a crime novel, an urban farce, a portrait of a project community. There’s even some western in here. The novel is, in other words, a lot. Fortunately, it is also 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 ... He doesn’t just pivot from the humor to the agony; he seems to deploy both modes at once, and it speaks to his talents that he does so with dexterous aplomb ... The humor, for all its ontological merits, runs too broad in too many places. While Latines are a notable presence in the Cause Houses, McBride doesn’t give any of them real depth; his authorial sympathies focus almost entirely on the black-white binary, which is too bad ... And for a novel set in 1969, there’s not a lot of ’60s here at all. These deficiencies might have toppled a lesser book, but what McBride has wrought cannot be undone by even its worst flaws.The novel is like Sportcoat himself—a fool, a wonder and just as invincible.
... a feverish love letter to New York City, people, and writing. The prose is relentless and McBride's storytelling skills shine as he drags readers at breakneck speed trough a plethora of lives, times, events, and conversations. The novel is 370 pages, but McBride has packed enough in there for a dozen novellas, and reading them all mashed together is a pleasure ... fast, deep, complex, and hilarious. McBride's prose is shimmering and moving, a living thing that has its own rhythm, pulls you in from the first page and never lets go. His story focuses on the people that make the Big Apple what it is: the strange, the poor, the insane, the mobsters. He also showcases the city's wonderful diversity, filling his pages with Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Italians, and Irish folks ... McBride has a talent for writing about big ensembles ... full of heart, humor, and compassion. It contains page-long sentences that sing and individual lines that stick to your brain like literary taffy. This is a narrative about flawed, poor people navigating an ugly, racist world and trying their best with the help of God, each other, or the bottle; their stories are unique, but the struggles are universal — and that makes this a novel about all of us. In Deacon King Kong, McBride entertains us, and shows us both the beauty and the ugliness of humanity. I say we give him another National Book Award for this one. It's that good.