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Deacon King Kong

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  45,700 ratings  ·  6,174 reviews
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.

In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the Afric
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published March 3rd 2020 by Riverhead Books
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TallManStrikes At the end, when one of the characters spots the cheese truck driver, they say he has a "pockmarked" face which is the same description the author gav…moreAt the end, when one of the characters spots the cheese truck driver, they say he has a "pockmarked" face which is the same description the author gave for The Governor so I believed he was the one carrying on the tradition after Elefante Sr. passed away.(less)

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Average rating 4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  45,700 ratings  ·  6,174 reviews

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Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, 2020
This took a lot longer for me to finish than I was anticipating. It’s not particularly long or dense, but was just difficult to get back into once I put it down. The characters are charming, fleshed-out and full of life, but initially it was hard to connect with what they were doing.

Honestly I was over halfway through Deacon King Kong wondering what it was even about. I mean, I knew what was happening, but I didn’t understand what James McBride was trying to say. I had no idea where it was head
Deacon King Kong by James McBride is a 2020 Random House publication.

Bold, Brilliant and Captivating!

Set in 1969 Brooklyn, the story starts off with a literal bang when an elderly church deacon, known as ‘Sportcoat’, shoots Deems Clemens, a drug dealer, in front of the Cause houses housing project, with no shortage of witnesses.

Sportcoat, may have been the deacon of The Five Ends Baptist Church for years, but he is also a long-time alcoholic, whose beverage of choice is a homemade hooch cal
A sensationally brilliant character and community driven historical fiction by James McBride, set in 1969 in the Causeway Housing Projects in South Brooklyn, New York. 71 year old old timer, Five Ends Baptist Church Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, aka Sportcoat, is drunk on his buddy Rufus Harley's special blend of hooch named King Kong. Sportcoat shoots the ear of 19 year old drug dealer, Deems Clemens, with an ancient gun, although he has no memory of doing this afterwards. The fallout from this act tha ...more
Anne Bogel
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I started this book back in February and, in the wake of the coronavirus, had a difficult time continuing in print in March—but then I switched to the audio version and couldn't put it down.

The story begins with a shooting: it's 1969, in the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn; a beloved drunk deacon named Sportcoat wanders into the courtyard and shoots the drug dealer he'd once treated like a son point-blank, in front of everyone. After this jolting beginning, McBride zooms out to s
Elyse  Walters
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Big Bang Beginning....
....followed by lengthy varied stories and descriptions!

I had to force myself to FOCUS for the LONGEST time.......
Slowly ... very slowly my authentic 👀 ‘bright-eye-bushy-tale’, interest took hold....
but not until around 50 or 60% percent. I started to pause with real intrigued when I reached the chapter,
“You Have No Idea What’s Coming”.

As for what’s coming......’s a look at the table of Contents:
Jesus’s Cheese,
A Dead Man,
Running Off,
The Governor,
The Mar
Apr 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I seem to be in the minority here but for some reason I just couldn't really get into this book. I thought it was good and the characters were flawed and real individuals who I genuinely enjoyed, but something was missing for me. There was nothing that really stood out that will make this book memorable for me and it was pretty predictable. I think it was the writing style itself that I didn't connect to. I'm not a very good person with small talk and chit chat and that was basically what the ma ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
McBride has brilliantly written a highly energetic story encompassing a multitude of characters that circle the Five Ends Baptist Church where his main character, Sportcoat, is a Deacon. Sportcoat is a character that Nora Zeale Hurston would have loved to have created. He is a hard-drinking, odd-job handyman that lost his wife two years ago (but continues to argue with her ghost almost continually), defied death multiple times, coached a youth baseball team and taught Sunday School.

On one fatefu
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, audio
I was so enchanted by The Good Lord Bird, I was anxious to listen to Deacon King Kong. Once again, McBride has created a whole swath of colorful characters. And his command of the dialogue is spectacular. He has also painted a scene in the projects that is easy to envision. But this is a more confusing book than TGLB.
The story starts in 1969 when Sportcoat, an elderly church Deacon, walks up to a young drug dealer and shoots him. There are loads of witnesses, but no one turns him in, not even t
Deacon King Kong is a crime novel centering around life in the projects in the 1960's New York City. What makes this novel such a standout achievement is not so much the action or plot so much as the writing which tells a whole life story in one paragraph If not in each sentence. Often the characters are revealed in poetic street raps about how they earned their nicknames and what's going on. McBride is an author I'd never heard of before, but one worth checking out.

Look, the lead character in t
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc
4.5 stars

James McBride is an incredible storyteller.  His characters are always fully realized and he allows readers to learn everything about them through subtle but powerful development.  

His upcoming release Deacon King Kong is a stunning look at African American and Latinx residents of the Cause Houses in south Brooklyn during the 1960s.

Members of the Five Ends Baptist Church are concerned about their deacon, Sportcoat, after the death of his wife Hettie.  The old man has been an alcoholic f
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
☀️Had the privilege to listen in on Levar Burton interview and chat with James McBride last night on a webinar! Such talented men! James talked about growing up in church, with the characters in his book reminiscent of real people in his life. He is brilliant with words. “The business of life is the only business there is.” Also, “A library or bookstore is freedom.” Wonderful!

Oprah, good pick!!!

James McBride is a master storyteller that will keep your interest until the very last word. This boo
Author James McBride is now one of my favorite authors who I shall follow and whose novels I shall read. He can write a sentence that is funny, sarcastic, tragic, and enlightening, all in one, albeit, long sentence. For those who enjoyed his National Book Award-winning novel, “The Good Lord Bird” will love this one.

The setting is in the Brooklyn projects in 1969. McBride writes the kaleidoscope of characters coexisting in a neighborhood. He includes the upright church ladies, who influence and r
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“There were a lot of theories floating around the projects as to why old Sportcoat – a wiry, laughing, brown-skinned man who had coughed, wheezed, hacked, guffawed, and drank his way through the Cause Houses for a good part of his seventy-one years – shot the most ruthless drug dealer the projects had ever seen.”

In Brooklyn, New York in the late 1960s Cuffy Lambkin (commonly known as Sportcoat), a deacon of the Five Ends Baptist Church, shot 19 year old drug dealer Deems Clemens. Sportcoat had n
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shortlisted for the 2021 ToB.

The novel opens with the main protagonist, Sportcoat, trying to shoot the local drug dealer in the face. True to his character he fails, only managing to blow an ear off. This action, successful or not, affects every major character in this novel. And every major character in this novel has their own story, their own story that somehow, sometimes tenuously, connects to the main narrative. It is quite impressive how all these stories link and come together at the end.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021-read, usa
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction 2021
Okay, I see why Barack Obama is recommending this: James McBride has produced an explosive, genre-bending extravaganza that can be described as a historical novel, a farce, a comic novel, a portrayal of a milieu, and a social critique. It's both funny and dark, playful and serious. It's 1969, and drunken 71-year-old church deacon Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin shoots off Deems Clemens' ear in plain daylight and in front of 16 witnesses. Sport
May 30, 2020 rated it liked it
"A lot of saints don't start off well, but they end that way."

McBride's novel tells the story of a church deacon named Sportcoat, Deacon King Kong is his nickname, who randomly shoots a drug dealer and no one knows why. Throughout the novel the reader is introduced to many other characters in 1960s Brooklyn who all seem unconnected at first but whose lives become more intertwined by the end. Its a funny and serious book, a good piece of escapism. McBride has a way with words, he is very descript
Jul 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Newly revised:

"There’s a drug war brewing. You don’t want your guy or your church in the middle of it. These drug lords are a different breed. They don’t play by the rules like the old crooks did. There’s no handshake or silent agreements, no looking the other way. Nobody’s safe. Nothing’s sacred. There’s too much money involved.”"

Brooklyn (and NYC in general) is fraught in McBride’s novel of later 20th century Black American life.

"“We ain’t tearing down our community, brother. We’re building it
Jenny (Reading Envy)
A cast of nicknamed characters in 1960s Brooklyn swirl through this novel - it's the minor Italian crime lords and the retiring Black church members making up the majority. The humor actually hit as funny to me (for once, a rarity.) McBride repeats segments as the narrative shifts between characters, so much so that I kept thinking my Kindle had skipped back. I would have enjoyed it more if he had done this less, but found it overall entertaining. Even though there is a shooting that the story r ...more
Jonathan K
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Storytelling at its best!

It's not often stories like these cross the radar. Having read others by James, this was truly unexpected. The world he's created with Deacon, aka Sportcoat, a hard-drinking, storyteller with a heart of gold, and his sidekick, Hot Sausage, is one filled with challenge, cops, drug dealers, Mafia types and church women. The use of hilarious ghetto phrases (Yo cheese done slipped off yo cracker) adds to the fun, while the plot unravels steadily. Driven by themes of redempt
Dave Schaafsma
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This James McBride can write! After reading a slew of grim, apocalyptic books I turned to the kind of book people used to call “rollicking,” where we meet a wild cast of nicknamed characters who get involved in a wild goose chase of an adventure. Now, in keeping with the random synchronicity of my reading, this book does document a time, 1969, when knives changed to guns as booze turned to heroin in Brooklyn, it doesn’t lie about that, but the emphasis in the story is more on hope than many of t ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommended to LaDonna by: Leo Gordy
I have been very anxious about reviewing this book. I found myself constantly bouncing between 2 stars, one minute, and 4 stars the next. James McBride definitely takes his readers on a wild roller coaster ride with Deacon King Kong . There were moments that I did not want to put the book down. And, then, there were moments that I was ready to throw the book at the wall and pick up something else.

As a reader, I want to thank James McBride with leaving me with some jewels that I shall always r
Kasa Cotugno
Brooklyn 1969. A housing project with a view of the Statue of Liberty. Heroin is beginning its invasive inroads into the population. That's the setup. Populated with the most colorful, diverse cast imaginable, award winner James McBride has accomplished the difficult feat of making each character come alive, every set up believable and relatable. As their stories are revealed and intertwine, the rascals and heroes of these mean streets are presented with such heart and beauty, I was sorry when i ...more
Darryl Suite
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Deacons, church ladies, corner boys, mobsters, moonshine, moonflowers, "white people" cheese, folklore, ghosts, gossip, looting, shooting, and goofing. This is one helluva romp. This book has heart, brains, and guts. What a wild ride. ...more
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

My hold for this latest release by James McBride just so happened to coincide with the group read being conducted by . . . . .

Guaranteeing a nearly perfect rating from the masses and broadcasting my wrongreader status far and wide. The premise here starts off fairly simple . . . .

“A cloudy September afternoon in 1969. That’s the day the old deacon, known as Sportcoat to his friends, marched out to the plaza of the Causeway Ho
Jul 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
When I heard of the premise for this book, I wasn't very excited, even when reviews were ecstatic. Still, there was no way I was gonna miss a new book from James McBride- whether good or bad, I was gonna read it. I can now confirm that he's done it again. While not engrossing as The Good Lord Bird, the best I've read by him so far, this one is brilliant in its own way and almost as irreverent. It's a little long, but I loved the cast of characters on display and their connection to one another. ...more
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Lord save us all from the book hype machine.

Deacon King Kong was charming and clever, and McBride’s chops are a writer are valid, but this book was way, way overhyped.

I had lofty expectations for this after reading loads of glowing reviews and endorsements, but for me it was...just ok.

The humor is notable and the plot is structurally interesting (or at least had the potential to be) but on the whole it’s a slow read (and not in a good way), too dialogue driven, and largely fails to engage.

I k
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a balm for my soul, a portrait of a black church community circa 1969 with sweet characters (well, most of them), interconnections that stretch back decades, and a plot with more than one mystery at its heart. The poverty and racism are there, but so too are McBride’s huge heart, LOL humor and amazing writing. I loved it.
Joy D
“Someone else had already taken over Deems’s bench at the flagpole. Nothing here would change. Life in the Cause would lurch forward as it always did. You worked, slaved, fought off the rats, the mice, the roaches, the ants, the Housing Authority, the cops, the muggers, and now the drug dealers. You lived a life of disappointment and suffering, of too-hot summers and too-cold winters, surviving in apartments with crummy stoves that didn’t work and windows that didn’t open and toilets that didn’t ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
4.5, rounded up

I would like to thank GR giveaways and Riverhead Books for an advanced readers’ copy.

James McBride has written an entertaining and very funny, witty novel with laugh-out-loud dialogue and even a touch of slapstick. However, while humorous, this is also a very serious and disturbing novel as McBride confronts issues of racism and the problems that often spring from public housing such as poor conditions, violence and drugs. A tricky balance, but one that McBride handles successfull
Gretchen Rubin
A wonderful, sprawling novel with lots of engaging character and suspense about why they're doing what they're doing. ...more
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James McBride is a native New Yorker and a graduate of  New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.  He is married with three children. He lives ...more

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