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Soul City    by Touré order for
Soul City
by Touré
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Cadillac Jackson, journalist for 'Chocolate City Magazine' and wannabe author, heads to the mythical Black utopian Soul City (setting also of Touré's previous short story collection The Portable Promised Land) with 'a pen in one hand and a pad in the other, hungry to catch every detail.' He finds the streets 'abuzz with all-age minifestivals of hair braiding, marble shooting, bubble blowing, puddle stomping, roller-skating, faithful preaching, "God's coming!", mommies strolling, babies toddling, groceries spilling, lots of flirting, and gossip flying.'

There's a mayoral election in the offing - the Soul City mayor's primary function is to be a 24-7 day and night DJ, and the candidates' musical modalities are not promising. The election result, as well as an incursion of Jiggaboo Shampoo's malevolent, tainted product lead eventually to a morale and moral crisis for Soul City, which ultimately requires rescue from Heaven ... but that's getting ahead of the story. Cadillac enters the 'Biscuit Shop', reigned over by sweet-looking, foul-mouthed, over two-hundred-year-old Granmama. There he meets his downfall - bossy Mahogany Sunflower, whose memory of flying is baked into the biscuit Cadillac buys, and whose one-music car plays only Billie Holiday songs - there's a prophecy about Mahogany, but you'll have to read the book to see how that one works out.

The novel is stuffed to the gills with wonderfully quirky characters, like the mad restaurant owner who insists on his waiters and waitresses dressing and acting as fictional characters - his patrons get 'intellectual vertigo'. Ubiquity Jones lives to set off 'gossip bombs'. A dealer called Kilimanjaro sells the new drug, 'Bliss' - this 'LSD for the ears' eventually makes them fall off. 'Neo-Slaves' revere their slave ancestors so much that they live the experience - chains, whippings and all - for an entire year. And there's the first African American Angel, Shiftless Rice, who did the rounds of Heaven and Hell (where he had a 'brouhaha with Beelzebub') before eloping with Satan's daughter, to settle down again in Soul City.

It's no wonder that Cadillac (representing the author?) struggles to write about his experiences among these tall tales come to life. In Soul City, Touré gives us whimsical, satirical, contemporary fantasy that flies and soars (just like the new Sunflower baby) through a landscape in all shades of chocolate and mahogany.

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