It’s 1969 and 19-year-old drug dealer Deems Clemens is lounging with his “associates” at a Brooklyn public housing project. Along comes 71-year-old Sportcoat, aka Deacon King Kong, who pulls out an ancient gun and shoots him. Turns out Sportcoat coached Deems and is furious that Deems chose drug dealing over what could be a stellar baseball career. Now, everyone in the project knows that Deem’s drug bosses will kill Sportcoat, but what everyone doesn’t know is that there’s an undercover cop who witnesses the shooting. McBride brings us a fast-paced—at times laugh-out-loud—gem of a novel that covers serious issues of race, poverty, and corruption. —Elaine— From Elaine and Luisa's Picks: Spring 2020
March 2020 Indie Next List
“Deacon King Kong is a quintessential New York story. Set in the Brooklyn projects in 1969, a perpetually inebriated deacon called Sportcoat aims a gun at the neighborhood’s main drug dealer in the public plaza and pulls the trigger. Incredibly well-constructed and hilarious at times, McBride’s story entwines a number of storylines that are kickstarted by this central event. The local Italian gangster, the veteran cop, the meddling churchgoers, and the drug pushers all have their own agendas, hopes, and dreams that are affected. And though Sportcoat doesn’t remember his actions and is always under the influence of gut-rot moonshine, I couldn’t help but root for him as I was reading this. His delightful ineptitude and absence of clarity made this book impossible for me to put down. If you’ve never read McBride before, this is a great introduction.”
— Stuart McCommon, Novel., Memphis, TN
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 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.
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.
Praise for DEACON KING KONG:
“A mystery story, a crime novel, an urban farce, a sociological portrait of late-1960s Brooklyn: McBride’s novel contains multitudes… He conducts his antic symphony with deep feeling, never losing sight of the suffering and inequity within the merriment.” —The New York Times, Top 10 Books of 2020
"Shouldn’t we just get it over with and declare McBride this decade’s Great American Novelist?...McBride has a way of inflating reality to comical sizes, the better for us to see every tiny mechanism that holds unjust systems in place." —Los Angeles Times
“A raucous, poignant, humanity-embracing novel.” —O, The Oprah Magazine, Top 20 Books of 2020
“A story of comedy and compassion.” —TIME, Top 10 Books of 2020
“A boisterous, imaginative, tender foray into late- 1960’s Brooklyn.” —Entertainment Weekly, Top 10 Books of 2020