From The Color of Water to The Good Lord Bird, to Miracle at St. Anna and beyond, James McBride has been showing anyone paying attention how to create prose sweet and painful for a good many years now. And here comes Deacon King Kong.
We find ourselves in the South Brooklyn projects, 1969, following Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of Five Ends Baptist Church as he pulls out a pistol and shoots the ear off the most notorious drug dealer in the community. “Cuffy,” known mostly as “Sportcoat,” doesn’t realize what he’s done. For one thing, he’s terrifically besotted as he has usually been for most of his seventy-one years, so recalls nothing of the deed. For another, his reputation for good citizen kindliness and that of his recently deceased wife made it either impossible for people to believe he had done it or set folks to making excuses for the act.
Thus sets in motion an exploration of history and relationships that open an entire physical and spiritual universe. There’s a couple of buried treasures which illuminate the history of the cultures and races that have washed through the community over the years. There’s the magic of the reappearing cheese. There’s a late-appearing 104-year-old woman who knows and sees all provokes both reconciliation and hostility.
McBride handles these myriad characters, time periods, and events with a wonderful mastery that is miraculous to behold and experience. I want desperately to tell more, but every time I try, I start spoiling something. Just please go find out for yourself. Deacon King Kong is a literary pleasure you’ll seldom find anywhere.