Books: “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride
Need a novel with genuine street humor? I suggest James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong,” a LOL-funny story set in late 1960s Brooklyn, when the borough was not as cool as it is today.
The protagonist is an aging deacon nicknamed Sportcoat, a relatively harmless drunk who guzzles homemade King Kong moonshine 24/7 and who one day in a drunken stupor shoots 19-year-old Deems Clemens, an infamously “ruthless” drug dealer, in the Causeway Housing Projects of Brooklyn. Sportcoat is so lit he doesn’t even realize he shot the young man, a baseball prodigy whom he once mentored and who had the talent to make it in major league baseball.
The story is basically Deems’ half-hearted thirst for revenge, and Sportscoat’s uncanny ability to elude capture at every turn. Along the way we meet minor gangsters like Tommy Elefante, who runs a smuggling ring out of the docks; the quirky parishioners of Five Ends Church in the projects; and various other characters with nicknames like Hot Sausage, Sister Paul, and Bunch Moon.
The plot is beside the point. The strength of the book is the wackadoodle characters who seem to have stepped out of a Jimmy Breslin novel circa 1969. Their repartee and their snaps sound authentically Brooklyn to this former resident. I bet Mark Twain with his ability to capture local dialect would have loved this novel, and I think you will too.
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