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Deacon King Kong
Cover of Deacon King Kong
Deacon King Kong
A Novel
OPRAH BOOK CLUB PICKA NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERFrom the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the bestselling modern classic The Color of Water, comes one of the most...
OPRAH BOOK CLUB PICKA NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERFrom the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the bestselling modern classic The Color of Water, comes one of the most...
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  • OPRAH BOOK CLUB PICK
    A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    From the author of 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.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover 1

    Jesus's Cheese

    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.

    There were a lot of theories floating around the projects as to why old Sportcoat-a wiry, laughing, brown-skinned man who had coughed, wheezed, hacked, guffawed, and drank his way through the Cause Houses for a good part of his seventy-one years-shot the most ruthless drug dealer the projects had ever seen. He had no enemies. He had coached the projects baseball team for fourteen years. His late wife, Hettie, had been the Christmas Club treasurer of his church. He was a peaceful man beloved by all. So what happened?

    The morning after the shooting, the daily gathering of retired city workers, flophouse bums, bored housewives, and ex-convicts who congregated in the middle of the projects at the park bench near the flagpole to sip free coffee and salute Old Glory as it was raised to the sky had all kinds of theories about why old Sportcoat did it.

    "Sportcoat had rheumatic fever," declared Sister Clarence Gee, the president of the Cause Houses Tenant Association and wife of the minister at Five Ends Baptist Church, where Sportcoat had served for fifteen years. She told the gathering that Sportcoat was planning to preach his first-ever sermon that upcoming Friends and Family Day at Five Ends Baptist, titled "Don't Eat the Dressing Without Confessing." She also threw in that the church's Christmas Club money was missing, "but if Sportcoat took it, it was on account of that fever," she noted.

    Sister T. J. Billings, known affectionately as "Bum-Bum," head usher at Five Ends, whose ex-husband was the only soul in that church's storied history to leave his wife for a man and live to tell about it (he moved to Alaska), had her own theory. She said Sportcoat shot Deems because the mysterious ants had returned to Building 9. "Sportcoat," she said grimly, "is under an evil spell. There's a mojo about."

    Miss Izi Cordero, vice president of the Puerto Rican Statehood Society of the Cause Houses, who had actually been standing just thirty feet away when Sportcoat pointed his ancient peashooter at Deems's skull and cut loose, said the whole ruckus started because Sportcoat was blackmailed by a certain "evil Spanish gangster," and she knew exactly who that gangster was and planned to tell the cops all about him. Of course everybody knew she was talking about her Dominican ex-husband, Joaquin, who was the only honest numbers runner in the projects, and that she and her Joaquin hated each other's guts and each had worked to get the other arrested for the last twenty years. So there was that.

    Hot Sausage, the Cause Houses janitor and Sportcoat's best friend, who raised the flag each morning and doled out free coffee care of the Cause Houses Senior Center, told the gathering that Sportcoat shot Deems on account of the annual baseball game between the Cause Houses and their rival, the Watch Houses, being canceled two years before. "Sportcoat," he said proudly, "is the only umpire both teams allowed."

    But it was Dominic Lefleur, the Haitian Cooking Sensation, who lived in Sportcoat's building, who best summed up everybody's feelings. Dominic had just returned from a nine-day visit to see his mother in Port-au-Prince, where he contracted and then passed around the usual strange Third World virus that floored half his building, sending...

About the Author-

  • JAMES MCBRIDE is an accomplished musician and the author of the National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, the bestselling American classic The Color of Water, the novels Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, the story collection Five-Carat Soul, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a biography of James Brown. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal, McBride is also a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 13, 2020
    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 protégé. 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.

  • AudioFile Magazine Dominic Hoffman vividly narrates the story of an old, drunken church deacon named Sportcoat who shoots a young drug dealer in the middle of a Brooklyn courtyard. Hoffman brings a multi-textured richness to each character in the novel. They are familiar and familial in their interactions. Hoffman is Irish, Italian, Hispanic, African-American, young, old, female, and male--people who all live in one concentrated area during the late 1960s. His ever-changing accents express both saint and sinner, humorous and sentimental, hateful and loving. Hoffman knows when to quicken the tempo or become biting, the way friends or enemies are at the height of frustration. The listener is humorously entertained and drawn into the neighborhood as a community member witnessing the unfolding of this unpredictable story. T.E.C. � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine

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