The writer and musician James McBride proves once again that he is a master conjurer of African Americana with his new book of charmed, imaginative short stories, Five-Carat Soul ... Full of humor, down-home vernacular and slightly twisted nostalgia, McBride’s coming-of-age stories about this crew’s adventures go down like warm milk sneakily spiked with a shot of whiskey ... McBride is at his best in this off-kilter mode. Last year’s nonfiction offering, Kill ‘Em and Leave, saw McBride recounting his investigation into the life and times of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with similar gusto and flare. He just goes for it, and the results once again are funny, strange and touching.
As a social commentator, McBride would no sooner indulge in didacticism than the rap-loving Gatekeeper would indulge in Dixieland. 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 ... For all his good graces, McBride takes pleasure in skewering people driven by self-interest and indifference. There's a lying lawyer who mistreats his guides and a fellow climber during his trek on Mt. Everest. And there's a TV news reporter who helps sensationalize a Chinese grocery store shooting: 'If she was two-faced, I think she could've used the other one.' If that doesn't sum up the current state of the union, I don't know what does.
The stories in James McBride’s latest book, Five-Carat Soul, often feel like parables ... McBride’s storytelling gifts, showcased in his National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, are on full display in Five-Carat Soul. 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. Each story gently or subversively leads to a revelation that you turn over and over. They feel like fables even when the characters are dealing with the ugliest bits of reality ... In his author’s note, McBride says the stories have come to him over the course of nearly 35 years. They feel like kinfolk, if not the direct progeny, of his other novels and even nonfiction work ... Yet the work is not derivative. It crackles with the bright energy of an author who — when he’s not writing prose — is an accomplished jazz musician. It’s there in the way the teens of Uniontown rib each other, never missing a conversational beat. It’s present in the way the animals riff when they talk to each other through their cages. These are stories of and from the soul.