What could possibly possess that bumbling, mumbling, stumbling old man, Sportcoat — everyone is thinking — to walk to the middle of the crowded flagpole square, here in Brooklyn in 1969, and shoot Deems Clemens in broad daylight? Everyone knows that Deems has grown up to be the lead drug dealer in the neighborhood, in spite of their communal dream that he’d use his brilliant baseball arm to pitch his way out of there. Now they all have to worry about protecting Sportcoat, even if he himself doesn’t seem to even remember having done the deed and isn’t being at all cooperative about laying low. How will he manage to evade revenge, now that this seems to have triggered a much more magnified response among the parties involved. What could Sportcoat have been thinking?
As Sportcoat meanders through the buildings of the Cause Houses, he brings us with him on a journey that feels random but is, in fact, a meticulously and methodically crafted tale. His warm and breezy manner is deceptive, and unless you’re paying close attention to his intoxicated rambling, you might miss his astute observations and profound wisdom. Other characters, too, have surprising depth and heart and casually drop the clues that create the cleverly drawn story that entangles them all. The “Elephant,” or Tommy Elefante, the son who inherits his father’s, um… let’s say, “import/export” business in the neighborhood, is another such player. As we peer into his heart, we know he’s committed some foul deeds, but he’s also been consistent and honest, which, in his business – and really in any business – counts for a lot. We feel their internal struggles, and we are privy to the reconciliation with their pasts.
There is so much that is subtly brilliant about this novel, it, no doubt, deserves to be read more than once. McBride’s writing enables us to easily fall in love with his characters, their wonderful names, their gritty dialogue, and their wildly human vulnerabilities. We feel trapped with them, inside their lanes, trying desperately to break out of the stereotypical cards that are dealt them. Each of them is in his or her segment of the same neighborhood, managing the social and economic forces that are trying to pit neighbor against neighbor in Brooklyn, 1969. Because of the poignant writing, we are right there with them, feeling their pain, laughing along with their victories.
This novel is utterly beautiful, in all its gritty splendor. An absolute MUST-READ!