Eclectic. That’s probably the best single word to describe TourÃ©’s collection of stories, “The Portable Promised Land.”
Artsy, yet off the-wall. Focused yet all over the place. The monatomic TourÃ© has crafted perhaps the most relentlessly unique and unabashedly strange work of fiction to come around this generation.
Laced with the flavor of the African-American experience, “The Portable Promised Land” is also social commentary skillfully relayed through the art of storytelling.
TourÃ© has indeed established himself as one of the most creative and relevant fiction writers of our time, African-American or otherwise.
His stories are literally “off the chain.” In “The Steviewondermobile,” for example, Huggy Bear Jackson’s world revolves around his stereophonically supped-up 1983 Cadillac, which only plays songs by the story’s namesake and frequently breaks down from a lack of attention to anything else in the car besides the system.
In “The Sambomorphosis,” the adolescent son of a black-power couple is inexplicably turned into a real life Sambo doll, buckeyes, red lips, too wide and bright smile and all.
The title piece is the story of Sugar Lips Shinehot, a literally beat-up former saxophone deity who finds solace in a bit of magic that renders all white people invisible to his eyes alone. And this is just the tip of a divergently smooth and jagged black iceberg.
Toure’s intentions are sometimes obvious, but often pleasingly veiled. In “My History,” the author tells it like he would have it: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t have been assassinated and KRS-One would be mayor of New York, among other things.
In a piece on “Afrolexicology,” he pays sarcastic homage to “the top 50 words in African-America, from “be” to “M.F.” to the n-word itself.
The messages become murkier elsewhere, though.
For instance, is “The Sambomorphosis” simply an inventive revisit of old racial stereotypes, or is TourÃ© holding up a mirror to the over-the-top, fist-raising black power elite? This social-relevance ambiguity, however, is what makes the stories so compelling.
Is there a method to his melancholic madness or is the point simply in creating the most outlandish characters and scenarios?
It all depends on what the reader brings to the thought table.
With more than 20 short stories and commentaries, Toure’s 250-plus pages turn very quickly, almost like an entrance into his fictionalized world of Soul City itself and time warped through to the end, feeling simultaneously refreshed and exasperated.
The Portable Promised Land begs to be discussed in coffee houses and chat rooms, and thusly TourÃ© is destined to become one of the most talked about and admired new voices on the literature landscape.