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Review: Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong

Title: Deacon King Kong
Author: James McBride
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 384
Published by: Riverhead Books
Date Published: March 3, 2020
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


It’s a hot 1969 September day at Brooklyn’s Causeway Housing Project when Sportcoat, the harmless, bumbling church deacon, walks up to the biggest drug dealer of the projects and, for reasons unknown to anyone, shoots him.

What follows is a deep dive into the heart of why Sportcoat made this choice, and its impact on the people surrounding the event – Sportcoat, the Black and Latinx residents of the projects, crime families, drug lords, corrupt & honest police, and the victim himself.

A powerful look in the treatment, realites, and daily lives of immigrants, African Americans that populated the projects in the tumultuous 1960s of America. A look at love, truth, mistakes forgiveness, race, compassion, and the interconnected, multi-reaching pathways of a single life.



What an unexpected, gut punch of a book. I listened to this on audiobook and it brought even greater reality and vitality to the voices. I will say, as a white woman, I am probably completely unqualified to review this excellent novel but I will simply reiterate my experience and observations with the story.

This was simply fantastic. It was brutal, it was raw, it was complicated and intelligent and emotional and hard-hitting. The audiobook elevated the voices even higher and the authenticity of that experience was really unforgettable. While James McBride holds nothing back shining the spotlight on the lives of the marginalized groups in the projects, or the layers of complicit corruption in the drug lord – crime family – corrupt police – white complacency cycle, I never felt he was punching down on any one group. In fact, I never felt he ever took a side. He showed the humanity and flaws in all his characters, never failing to expose their loneliness, their hardships, struggles and ultimately their desire to be loved. It was really spectacular.

What is particularly surprising about this novel? How funny it is! I was seriously laughing out loud many times, and with a subject matter that leans so deep this was so pleasantly unexpected.

Ultimately a carefully constructed, slowly built but powerful novel spotlighting marginalized groups in housing projects, James McBride gives us a very honest, very real look at humanity in all its forms. Greed, corruption, mistakes, the quest for truth, love, forgiveness. Never looking down on any particular group, he simply gives us a thoroughly introspective conversation into the human condition and what I found particularly powerful, is that even through its seediest underbelly, he writes with an undercurrent of hope. A masterful storyteller and I highly recommend the audiobook.

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