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Booked for the Day

Our Discussion of Deacon King Kong: A Novel, by James McBride

Our group noted that this fiction novel, set in 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, is a series of mysteries in which the characters are interwoven around the act of a church deacon named Sportcoat who walked into a housing project to shoot Deems, a drug dealer at point-blank range. Deems does not die but later in the novel, Sportcoat once again tries to kill him by suffocation.

Several members felt that Sportcoat, who had many health issues, seemed to take on a mythological tone by surviving everything he encountered. This character was not easy to understand all the way to the ending point of him walking into the water to end his life. He continued to reminisce about his Hettie, who we are not sure is part of Sportcoat’s imagination or if she is dead and shows up in spirit to him.

Members commented that the writing style of the content and the dialogue were often difficult to understand or relate to based on the setting of this book. The year, 1969, was a time when the NY projects were infiltrated with drugs to change neighborhoods and become a lucrative enterprise. However, there also was humor interwoven into the novel, along with love stories, which were predictable at times but not satisfying. An example was the relationship between Elephante and the governor’s daughter.

There was further discussion about the role of the Five Ends Baptist Church and how it influenced the community, and the bridging of other areas of communities, such as the Cause Houses projects, Deems as the drug dealer and his “posse,” the police, and the Italians who stayed in the area regarding how they related to each other throughout the story. The characters were created by the author as separate units but they each were connected within the communities, even without the advantage of technology that is in today’s world.

Members were not comfortable with the violence and extreme anger of the actions of Sportcoat, and the ending was troublesome with possibly more depth and meaning than was evident just from reading about it. This book was very different from the writing style and content of The Color of Water also by McBride.

Our group had mixed reactions to this novel that they rated as 4 for how much they enjoyed this book and also gave the rating of 4 for how willing they are to recommend this book to others. The themes selected for this book Addiction, Community, Culture, Family, Friendships, Humor, Race, and Violence.

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