Deacon King Kong by James McBride [in Booklist]
On a cloudy September 1969 afternoon, septuagenarian widower Sportcoat – less respectfully dubbed Deacon King Kong for his addiction to the local moonshine – shot 19-year-old drug dealer Deems, then saved Deems’ life with an unseemly version of the Heimlich maneuver when Deems nearly choked on his tuna sandwich. That shocking spectacle, which Sportcoat won’t even remember, reverberates through South Brooklyn’s Causeway Housing Projects and beyond … because everyone seems related by hook or by crook.
While Sportcoat’s dead wife continues to nag him regularly, his best friend tries to convince him to run for his life. Sportcoat claims innocence and refuses to flee, remembering Deems as the Projects’ best pitcher on his way to a baseball scholarship just a year ago.
Meanwhile, down on the piers, the Italian Elefante is trying to keep his shipments moving without taking on the expanding baggage of illegal drugs, but he’s suddenly faced with fulfilling a promise his late father made to an aging Irish bagel maker.
Seasoned narrator Dominic Hoffman adroitly assumes the vast cast of innocents, killers, cops, criminals, oldsters, teens – all with unflagging energy. He’s a consummate chameleon, effortlessly voicing James McBride’s (The Good Lord Bird) scathingly observant riffs on skin-color-based inequity as he smoothly adjusts among characters, moods, and backgrounds, transforming an already stupendous book into an unmissable performance.
Review: “Media,” Booklist, June 1, 2020