Posts Tagged ‘James McBride’

‘Deacon King Kong’ by James McBride – Living in the Causeway Housing Projects


‘Deacon King Kong’ by James McBride (2020) – 384 pages

Satire works best when the writer really likes the people he or she is making fun of. This is the secret of ‘Don Quixote’. This is the secret of ‘Deacon King Kong’.

Sportcoat is an old guy, 71, who has somehow survived it all, living everyday in the Causeway Housing Projects in New York City. The year is 1969. He drinks his King Kong alcohol several times a day, He is also a deacon in the Five Ends Baptist Church, whatever a deacon does. He still has long conversations with his wife Hettie who died two years ago. He knows just about everyone in the neighborhood.

Here is a good description of Sportcoat:

What’s his job?” he asked.

Odd jobs mostly. Does a bit of everything. Works over at Itkin’s Liquors some days. Cleans out basement other days. Takes out the trash. Gardens for a few white folks around these parts. He’s got a real green thumb. Can do just about anything with plants. He’s known for that. And for drinking. And baseball.”

Most everyone in the Projects has a colorful name: Sportcoat, Hot Sausage, Sister Gee, Bum Bum, Miss Izi, Soup Lopez.

In the Sixties a new kind of trouble has come to the Projects. The kid who was the star of Sportcoat’s baseball team and who had major league scouts showing up at their games, Deems Clemens, is now 19 and a ruthless drug dealer.

And now heroin was here to make their children slaves again, to a useless white powder.”

The Church is at the center of life in the neighborhood. Miss Gee is married to the pastor of the Church and also she cleans houses. She talks to the white policeman Potts who grew up in this area, and there is a spark of good feeling between them. Miss Gee sees that Potts is a man of underlying kindness.

Sister Gee shrugged. “There’s plenty tipping goin’ on in church, just like in anyplace in this world. People got feelings, y’know? They get lonesome even when they’re married. There’s love in this world, mister. It don’t stop for nothing or nobody. You ain’t never seen that?”

As for the policeman Potts, there also is attraction for Miss Gee on his side.

The best he could get out of it was standing right in front of him, as gorgeous and kind a woman as he’d ever seen.”

James McBride does not make the mistake of portraying all white people as bad or evil. The majority of the white people in the novel are racists and don’t even try to cure themselves of it, but at least three of the main characters in ‘Deacon King Kong’ are white people who do their best to try to be fair and unprejudiced and decent, even to the black people who live in the Causeway Housing Projects.

Why couldn’t more people get along that way?”

There are parts to this story that are preposterous, but it’s all in good fun. The Venus of Willendorf? Yeah, sure.

‘Deacon King Kong’ is colorful, alive, busy, and good natured throughout.


Grade:   A



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