November 11, 2020 8:36 AM EST

Deacon King Kong, bless him, cannot remember that he has just gone and shot the local drug dealer in the face, for everyone to see. His friends urge the bumbling, recently widowed, often drunken deacon (better known by his other nickname, Sportcoat) to seek safety after the dealer—whom the deacon once coached in baseball—survives. The dealer sends hired guns after Sportcoat to exact revenge, and both the police and the local mob dispatch men on their own searches. The ensuing empathetic comic novel—James McBride’s first since the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird—is bursting with the complexities of a diverse community (even a colony of ants narrates). The book also depicts the soft underbelly of hardened masculinity as it explores the mysterious causes and the unspooling aftermath of the deacon’s act.

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