Deacon King Kong

Book Cover
James McBride
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Feb 2, 2021

Deacon King Kong is a sort of love letter to a few blocks of New York City projects in 1969, and to the endearing cast of colorful characters brimming with personality. McBride has a magical touch bringing to life the adage everyone has a story. His descriptions are vivid, engrossing, and entertaining, giving both people and setting depth and truth. His dialogue, as well. It's a hard setting full of people living hard, flawed lives. McBride never ducks the grit and grime, violence and suffering, yet still manages to find some measure of joy and an abundance of humor. He paints a breathing portrait of "the least" of society, and he loves them.

Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of Five Ends Baptist Church became a walking dead man on a cloudy September afternoon in 1969. That's the day the old deacon, known as Sportcoat to his friends, marched out to the plaza of the Causeway Housing Projects in South Brooklyn, stuck an ancient .38 Colt in the face of a nineteen-year-old drug dealer named Deems Clemens, and pulled the trigger.

That opening paragraph sets off a complex web of events. Sportcoat is the old neighborhood drunk. He's a bumbling fool, a handyman, a beloved teacher and coach, and a widower who constantly stumbles around having conversations with his dead wife. He was so drunk when he shot Deems he doesn't even remember doing it. Deems was a rising baseball star who's become a rising star dealer. He's part of a new generation selling the new drug Heroin that's taking over the city. That one gunshot sends repercussions rippling through their neighborhood and wider connections. The neighborhood is changing from what it used to be, and this one act is a catalyst sending all the competing players and forces into motion. 

Reviewed by Chris K.
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