Somehow I passed over the hype around James McBride and his highly acclaimed The Good Lord Bird. I’m now completely on board the McBride train. Five-Carat Soul is one of the most unique and charming books I’ve read. I can’t think of a similar style, and I loved it.
Five Carat-Soul is a compilation of stories, several tied together, all told with a strong depth of character and imagination. McBride’s stories are fun, and his characters are both strong and vulnerable in navigating their curious situations. In one series, we are introduced most delightfully to the kids that make up The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone band of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Without affection, they refer to their town as The Bottom, and in The Bottom we get to know Ray-Ray, Goat, Sissie, Blub, and an ensemble of characters with yarns as told from one of their own. It’s a tough town with small kindnesses its greatest currency.
Abe Lincoln makes a couple of appearances; first as a young orphaned slave’s imagined father, then later as we witness the president in a quite intimate, vulnerable, and deeply human circumstance. “The Christmas Dance" is incredibly authentic and moving - it will make your heart swell. And my favorite collection of related stories just has to be "Mr. P and the Wind”. Here we better understand the Higher Order - the wild animals, here confined to a life in captivity, as related by the king of the jungle himself. You’ll learn in the author’s note that McBride created these last stories after a disturbing visit to the zoo with his two nephews - what a creative and compelling way to turn something so appalling to them into something so magical.
McBride is an incredible storyteller - completely unpredictable and original. McBride cleverly and sharply confronts our callousness; and he recognizes our flaws and dreams alike with wisdom and care. His attention, depth, and wit make this a fantastic read.
Vickie’s rating: 5 stars