Deacon King Kong
At the center of James McBride’s exuberant novel is 71-year-old Sportcoat, a onetime youth baseball coach and inveterate drinker whose tipple of choice is King Kong, an ardent spirit home-distilled by his friend, Hot Sausage. Set in a Brooklyn housing project in 1969, the sprawling narrative has a Dickensian abundance of characters and intersecting story lines involving a shooting, a missing stash of Christmas savings, a squirreled-away treasure looted during wartime and a loquacious haunting. In turns, hilarious, moving, and suspenseful, the novel is also charged with a current of understated anger. It is written in the most glorious prose, its beat and buoyancy delivered by Dominic Hoffman. A master at capturing the rhythm of backchat, Hoffman is masterly, especially in giving us, such exchanges as Sportcoat and Hot Sausage arguing South Carolina vs. Alabama ways of breaking a mojo. This is a great book, wonderfully narrated — although Hoffman, who excels at some dictions (Brooklynese, Southern), should steer away from “Irish” accents. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 14 hours)
Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes
Rose Pastor Stokes, the subject of Adam Hochschild’s exceptionally engaging biography, became a celebrity in 1905 when she married James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of great wealth. Born in 1879 in Russia to a poor Jewish family who eventually made their way to America, Rose worked in a cigar factory starting at age 11 and, in time, became a columnist and reporter on the condition of working people, especially women. Her marriage to Stokes eventually brought with it a private island on Long Island Sound, a 100-room “cottage” in the Berkshires, and notoriety as a socialist, later Communist, and outspoken proponent of contraception and pacifism — the last nearly landing her in prison. Her husband went along with it all — before reverting to his family’s conservatism. The couple divorced in 1925, and Rose continued her several campaigns until her death from cancer in 1933. Hochschild’s deft portrayal of signal events and vivid evocation of personalities and period detail are well served by Lisa Flanagan’s clear, perfectly paced narration. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Unabridged, 9½ hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.