In The New York Times Book Review, Baz Dreisinger reviews James McBride’s new novel, “The Good Lord Bird,” an unusually funny look at John Brown’s violent crusade against slavery. Ms. Dreisinger writes:
“The Good Lord Bird” is hardly the first literary rendering of John Brown; everyone from Herman Melville to Langston Hughes, from Russell Banks to the rock band Rancid, has written of the man who tired of talk and demanded action, undertaking a violent crusade against slavery the way Ahab went after his white whale. Henry David Thoreau called Brown “the most American of us all,” which partly explains his iconic appeal: zealotry, self-reliance, lone crusading — from the Puritans on down, this is true Americana. Brown’s racial cross-identification — “His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine,” Frederick Douglass said; the scholar John Stauffer cites evidence he may have tried to darken his skin in photographs — makes him doubly relevant to hip-hop America; were he alive today, Brown might well be Eminem.
In McBride’s hands, though, he’s “prone to stop on his horse in the middle of the afternoon, cup his hand to his ear and say: ‘Shh. I’m getting messages from our Great Redeemer Who stoppeth time itself on our behalf.’ ” He’s part Crocodile Dundee, part backwoods preacher, part con man. When the “Old Man” smiles, our narrator tells us, “stretching them wrinkles horizontal gived the impression of him being plumb stark mad. Seemed like his peanut had poked out the shell all the way.”
On this week’s podcast, Mr. McBride discusses his new novel; Jeff Guinn talks about his new biography of Charles Manson; and Parul Sehgal has best-seller news. Pamela Paul is the host.