Deacon King Kong

Riverhead. Mar. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780735216723. $28. F
This latest from National Book Award winner McBride (The Good Lord Bird) offers a snapshot of 1969 Brooklyn, focusing on a housing project called the Cause Houses and the Italian neighborhood that borders it. It’s a lively place peopled by characters named Bum-Bum and Hot Sausage, with the action centered on a good-natured old drunk named Sportcoat (or Deacon King Kong, a nickname derived from his potent drink of choice). In the book’s opening pages, the underemployed and recently widowed Sportcoat shoots a local drug dealer, which provides a springboard for Sportcoat’s life story and the larger story of the Cause Houses. These are dark, changing times: Heroin has crept in, and the segregation that was quietly tolerated for so long becomes a greater factor in the characters’ lives. But McBride tells that story with a light hand and throughout emphasizes a desire for connection, e.g., Sportcoat’s for his dead wife and NYPL lifer Potts’s for Miss Gee, a Cause Houses stalwart. Hard though life is, community binds the characters together.
VERDICT Much is unpacked by the time the book reaches its lovely and heartfelt climax, as McBride shows what can happen when people set aside their differences. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Spike Lee. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]
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