Up until now I've made a point of reviewing readily-available books. New or old, they are all present or obtainable at the bookstore where I work. So what the hell do I do about Touré? I mean, sure, his latest book is in bookstores, and this is a good thing. He has essays on Time.com and he co-hosts The Cycle on MSNBC and these are also good things. But what about his old stuff? These days, you can't just … … wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Of course you don't know his old stuff. Back in June, I didn't know his old stuff either. But in July a very kind co-worker put The Portable Promised Land in my hand and I've been grateful to him, and to Touré, ever since.
Black has never been more beautiful than it is in The Portable Promised Land, whose short stories illustrate a magical realism metropolis unlike any other. The citizens of Soul City are, at turns, bizarre and majestic. Their stories, similarly, run a real emotional gamut, from children's tales to violent exposés, wild comedy to loving listmaking. Sounds like a mouthful, no doubt, but Touré ties it all together and takes us with him. His mind is dipped evenly in history and modern culture, his creativity would make Rushdie and Garcia Marquez proud, and his thematic dexterity should keep even the most jaded of readers on their toes.
Importantly, Touré secures our attention by nailing the opening story, “The Steviewondermobile.” In six pages, we get everything we need: strong, playful language, a sweet sense of humor, and a proper introduction to Soul City itself. (I strongly recommend that you read this story right away. Here's a link.) From there, the book is Touré's playground. You want some magical realism? Check out “Solomon's Big Day” or “The Sambomorphosis.” In the mood for defying stereotypes? Go read “Attack of the Love Dogma” or “Blackmanwalkin.” Something more straightforward? There's “The Breakup Ceremony” and “How Babe Ruth Saved My Life.” And just to thwart convention and subvert normality, we're treated to some atypical pieces: “We Words,” “A Guest!” and “Afrolexicology Today's Biannual List of the Top Fifty Words in African-America.”
Rarely is a table of contents so compelling as this one. Titles like “They're Playing My Song” or “Falcon Malone Can Fly No Mo,” that's one thing. (Don't get me wrong, they're cool stories too.) But when you see a short story that goes by the name of “The Sad, Sweet Story of Sugar Lips Shinehot, the Man with the Portable Promised Land” or “A Hot Time at the Church of Kentucky Fried Souls and the Spectacular Final Sunday Sermon of the Right Revren Daddy Love” … I mean, come on!
In addition to the well-worn masks of Comedy and Tragedy, Touré possesses a keen social consciousness, which is Captain of his newest book but is more of a Second Mate here. “My History,” another short-story-as-list, contains a hope and a regret that many readers will relate to, and surely all readers will understand. Weightier still, the book presents the “Black Widow” trilogy: three short stories about a fictitious female MC, her merciless message, and the complex repercussions. And what would you make of the story on page ninety-five? Its title is “The African-American Aesthetics Hall of Fame, or 101 Elements of Blackness (Things That'll Make You Say: Yes! That There's Some Really Black Shit!)”
Here's what I make of it: Touré isn't just writing for white people or for black people, for rich people or for poor people, for the academic or for the untaught reader. He writes for himself, and for anyone willing to read his books. Which, if at all possible, you most definitely should do. Whether you like your books in the flesh or on a computer screen, hell, even if you don't like books, you should read this book. Go forth and seek it! Download it from somewhere or demand it be returned to widespread publishing! It holds the power to turn people onto reading, and to strengthen faith in those who read already. Now there's some magical realism for you.