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Five-Carat Soul Hardcover – September 26, 2017
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“These brilliant miniatures display all of the rambunctious fearlessness of [McBride's] deeply empathetic imagination... Five-Carat Soul [is] a delight.” —New York Times Book Review
“Brash, daring and defiantly original... [these] stories are bound to stay with readers for a very long time.” —NPR
“A furious joy drives these glimpses of brave lives in perilous places.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A vivid, often funny story collection that examines serious topics like race, war, history, and self-identity—all with a deft hand and a fluid, musical voice.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The stories are diverse enough in style, theme and milieu to keep one’s head thoroughly engaged... Serious fun.” —Newsday
“The author of the National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird possesses a biting wit, but disarms it with his calm, plainspoken style... A consummate entertainer, McBride has the comic energy and antic spirit of Richard Pryor.” —Chicago Tribune
“If there’s a mode in which McBride can’t write brilliantly, he has yet to prove it.” —Vulture
“The characters are disparate, but McBride is such an agile writer that each voice feels authentic and somehow familiar. Taken together the stories speak, if not directly to one another, to a greater humanity and wisdom we all desire... These are stories of and from the soul.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
[A] jazzy, generous spirit animates [Five-Carat Soul]... McBride succeeds by tempering absurdity with insight, and camp with poignancy.” —Financial Times
“Five-Carat Soul by James McBride covers a lot of ground, all of it unpredictable, exhilarating, and, often, hilarious. The short stories bounce from one unlikely protagonist to the next ... I loved these stories individually; all together they make for a wild and utterly delightful ride.” —BuzzFeed
“The short stories in this collection from National Book Award winner James McBride (The Good Lord Bird) range widely, from the Civil War to the Vietnam War and from the animal world to a toy train set, but all are poignant, imaginative, and 'literary' in the best sense of the word.” —Christian Science Monitor
“McBride proves once again that he is a master conjurer of African Americana with his new book of charmed, imaginative short stories... [He] lets his sense of whimsy run wild in this collection... the results once again are funny, strange and touching.” —Seattle Times
“McBride is one of this country’s best writers, and that has never been more apparent than here, in his first short story collection... McBride’s writing practically shimmers with energy and charm, making reading him a singular pleasure.” —Nylon
“Hilarious, charming, and unlike anything else you'll read this year, these stories show more about the human psyche than one could possibly imagine.” —PopSugar
“This collection of inventive and exuberant stories comes packed with singular voices, outlandish exploits and rare insight.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“McBride gives us [a] mix of hilarity and poignant truth in his collection of short stories, Five-Carat Soul... The ones that clarify injustice by making it hit us just as we are laughing the hardest—those stories are evidence of McBride’s genius.” —The Christian Century
“McBride delivers pure gold... Five-Carat Soul shakes with laughter, grips with passion and oozes wisdom. Readers should put aside any prejudices they might harbor about short fiction because together these stories are a masterpiece that will enrich everyone it touches.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Humming with invention and energy, the stories collected in McBride’s first fiction book since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird again affirm his storytelling gifts... McBride adopts a variety of dictions without losing his own distinctly supple, musical voice; as identities shift, 'truths' are challenged, and justice is done or, more often, subverted.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Each told with McBride's trademark insight, eye for character, and masterful story-telling ability, these pieces are sure to knock you out.” —Bustle
“Throughout the book, McBride effortlessly adapts different voices and perspectives…With this multifaceted volume, McBride proves once again that he’s a writer of remarkable range and facility.” —BookPage
“McBride's authentic characters and stories capture with humor and poignant insight the messiness of our internal (and external) lives and the world around us.” —Buzzfeed
“Stellar... McBride’s short stories joyfully abound with indelible characters whose personal philosophies are far wiser than their circumstances allow... [He] brings the snappy satire that endeared him to fans of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the courage and pathos that shone in The Miracle at St. Anna.” —Booklist (starred review)
“An exceptional group of stories... There’s a good amount of humor here, but most of these pieces are deeply emotional. This is McBride at his A-list best.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“McBride exhibits his formidable storytelling chops in an array of voices and settings... The charm emitted by these whimsical-yet-acerbic tales seems to come from a hypothetical late-19th-century collaboration of Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. McBride emerges here as a master of what some might call ‘wisdom fiction,’ common to both The Twilight Zone and Bernard Malamud, offering instruction and moral edification to his readers without providing an Aesop-like moral.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, the #1 bestselling American classic The Color of Water, and the bestsellers Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna. He is also the author of Kill ’Em and Leave, a James Brown biography. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2016, McBride is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.
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McBride is a master storyteller. The prose is colorful and flows quickly. I was turning the pages so quickly I felt compelled to check the size of the font to understand why. It was the prose, however, not the font, that ultimately enticed me to gallop through the pages.
Like most readers will be inclined to do, I searched for a common denominator to each of the stories. And there are a few. There is a history of color that runs throughout, for example. In the end, however, I think that the message of this book is like the wind itself, blowing both through your hair and everywhere around you all at the same time, refusing to be channeled or characterized. And that is what makes the wind and this book so liberating.
One of the stories takes place in an area of Uniontown, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, known as The Bottom. A teacher of one of the more athletic local boys goes to his home to talk to his mother. “Are you Seymour’s mother?” Miss McIntyre asked. “If you mean is I the someone who teaches him not to brush his teeth and clean his nose out in public, yes, I am his mother,” Mrs. Shays said. “But if you from social services and come out here fending and providing and pretending you know everything, which must be a terrible strain on a person, then I ain’t nobody.” To the inevitable follow up, she says, “If it look like buzzard and smell like buzzard, miss, in ain’t catfish.”
In one story involving The Gatekeeper to you-know-where, one particularly recalcitrant and feisty boxer, unmistakably modeled after Muhammad Ali says, “Take that robe off and fight, you devil you. Pull that hood off. Lordy, that mug of yours must look bad as a snake bite. You so ugly you keep your eyes closed when you kiss your wife—so you won’t see her suffer.”
I normally reserve a 5 rating for books that are truly transformative. And that is a very high standard for fiction to achieve. This book clears that bar, however, not because it will transform your thinking so much as it will simply transform the time you spend reading it. It’s a true delight without ever begging to be delightful.
He writes with emotion and vividness that it takes you away and makes you feel like you’re there. It’s comedic, dramatic and suspenseful.
There’s multiple short stories, about 10, ranging 20-55 pages each. So it’s a great book that you can read off and on.
This book of short stories was tremendously varied and full of imagination and wonder. Some stand alone, and others are grouped. As it happens, my least and most favorite were among the grouped stories. Least favorite, sadly, has the best title - "The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band." It was about a group of kids in a place called "the Bottoms" who had a band. The biggest problem was that the best story came first and they tended to just go on without another high point. None was awful, but they didn't stand up to the level set by every other story in the book.
My favorite grouping was five connected stories about a group of animals living in a zoo, "Mr. P & the Wind." These stories were just beautiful, imaginative, fantastic and strangely: the most human, despite all coming from the point of view of said animals, AKA "Higher Orders." If this is what zoos are really like, I might start to visit them again. They all were so enchanting. I could easily read a book-length group of these if they stayed at this caliber. Interestingly, at the very end is a note from James McBride:
"In 1986 I took my two nephews, Dennis and Nash McBride, who were little boys back then, to visit a major zoo in one of America’s big cities. They were so horrified by what they saw, I wrote Mr. P and the Wind for them."
Somehow, days after finishing, as I argued with my Kindle to just let me finish the book without writing a review on that silly little keyboard (they never actually post anyway,) reading that bit made the stories even better.
"The Christmas Dance" was also superb. Of course, he gives away some of the magic with his title, but it's the getting there that makes the difference in all good reading, so I wasn't upset to land where I expected, and it didn't make my eyes any drier when we arrived. In fact, I'd mostly not thought about the fact that I knew where it was headed since the title! A lovely gem right in the middle of the book.
I doubt if I'd just read "The Under Graham Railroad Box Car Set"- the first story (and yes, it's Graham, not ground, you'll have to read it to find out why) - without the audio. I doubt the first story would have grabbed me the way it did. But since I had the joy of wonderful audio, I completely bought into this story. It's long and detailed, about a topic I have zero interest in (toy collecting.) Nonetheless, I was delighted and entranced. The voices didn't always stay at the caliber of that first one, but when they were good, they were tremendously good. The zoo stories were also fabulously acted.
The imagination in these stories is fabulous. Truly amazing to think about, given the breadth of the topics covered. "The Moaning Bench" was another amazingly surprising and imaginative story, and "The Fish Man Angel" was quite touching.
You can't go wrong with this group of stories.
Often difficult and even brutal in their truthfulness (on race and freedom, that of humans and animals alike), still there is beauty and laughter and hope in each story. Highly recommended.