Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction
Winner of the Gotham Book Prize
One of Barack Obama's "Favorite Books of the Year"
Oprah's Book Club Pick
Named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and TIME Magazine
A Washington Post Notable Novel
From the author of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, and the bestselling modern classic The Color of Water, comes one of the most celebrated novels of the year.
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.
The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters—caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York—overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.
Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Oprah calls her new book club pick “inspiring, with a Shakespearean cast of characters—and funny too.” James McBride’s first novel since 2013’s The Good Lord Bird isn’t a whodunit—it’s a whydunit. Set in a sprawling housing project in ’60s Brooklyn, the book starts with a bang when “Sportcoat,” a moonshine-loving church deacon, shoots a young drug dealer in broad daylight. Sportcoat doesn’t remember exactly what he’s done or why, but what unfolds is less a criminal investigation than a fast-moving and loopy story that seamlessly veers from murder mystery to bawdy slapstick comedy to heartfelt meditation on grief, love, and community. As everyone in the neighborhood reacts to the crime in their own unique fashion, we get to know a rich array of charming, complex characters with great nicknames like Hot Sausage, Sister Bum-Bum, and the Elephant. Deacon King Kong is a big, vibrant novel with a wonderful sense of its place and time. It’s an absolute joy to read.
McBride (The Good Lord Bird) delivers a sharply compassionate shaggy dog tale of a heavy drinking Baptist deacon who shoots a drug dealer and becomes a "walking dead man." In the autumn of 1969, handyman and occasional baseball coach Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, known to his friends as "Sportcoat" because of his colorful wardrobe or as "Deacon King Kong" on account of his equal affection for a moonshine with that name, inexplicably shoots off the ear of Deems Clemens, Sportcoat's former baseball prot g . This sets in motion a hunt for Sportcoat by Deems's employers that draws in Tommy "Elephant" Elefante, a sweetly melancholy Italian mover of "hot goods" whose grip on the neighborhood is slipping, and scrupulous police officer "Potts" Mullen, who is on the brink of retirement. As Deems's crew ineffectually try to murder Sportcoat, Elephant follows clues left by his dead father to find a hidden treasure, and Potts tries to keep the neighborhood safe while falling for the wife of a preacher, McBride unravels the mystery of Sportcoat's inexplicable ire against Deems. With a Dickensian wealth of quirky characters, a sardonic but humane sense of humor reminiscent of Mark Twain, and cartoonish action scenes straight out of Pynchon, McBride creates a lived-in world where everybody knows everybody's business. This generous, achingly funny novel will delight and move readers.
Long Live Deacon King Kong!
So, if you're southern then this book will speak it you in such a gracious way. The dialect reminded me of my grandparents. It was such an easy read what actually spoke about so heavy issues. It was funny. It was loving. And it was compassionate. A great read for troubling times.
You would have thought I was watching a good movie while reading this book. I shed a tear once but mostly laughed out loud. I’m so glad I saw it being shared on social media.
Deacon King Kong
Exceptional. Filled with love and hope and respect for our American past. Loved it!