“Your self … is other people, all the people you’re tied to, and it’s only a thread.”— Tom Wolfe

Once upon a time people knew their neighbors. In some places, typically smaller towns and the suburbs, people do know some of their neighbors. Our latest read takes us to a Brooklyn community where everyone knows everyone’s business ... or at least they think they do.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

No one quite understood what happened when Sportcoat walked up and shot the project’s most prominent dealer in broad daylight. That one moment ignited a powder keg for the community as the residents waited for Deem’s to seek revenge on the old man. “Deacon King Kong” tells the all-encompassing story of a Brooklyn neighborhood after the well-known and liked alcoholic deacon known by his nickname, Sportcoat, shoots the young drug dealer, Deems, whom he had treated like a son. The incident ripples through Brooklyn as the shooting brings the cops, the mob and top tier drug dealers into the projects while the local church community work to keep Sportcoat, who doesn’t recall the shooting, away from the cops. As the plot drifts forward, James McBride reveals the social web of connections the different characters within the community share. The two involved in the shooting once shared a familial bond, characters who find themselves on opposing sides as they work to protect the residents of the neighborhood, find they have more in common than they initially realized and one mobster rethinks his whole worldview.

McBride’s latest novel is a touching and at times a puzzling intricate portrait that reveals how intertwined these different characters are. The drunken shooting reveals the histories of the project’s residents, the evolution of the Brooklyn neighborhood and the character’s desire for connection. It also poses several local mysteries, like where the monthly fancy cheese comes from each month.

McBride’s vibrant tale spans decades of community history and peels back the story a layer at a time like an onion, crafting a splendid depiction of humanity.

From the book jacket

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.

If you enjoy…

Readers interested in reading about how the past informs the present within a community might also be interested in reading Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” It shares the bonds and disconnects a group of Asian women have with their Americanized daughters. Like McBride’s book, it depicts a portrait of a community.