Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review: "Fortune Smiles" by Adam Johnson

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Random House for making it available!

Adam Johnson is a tremendously talented writer, with a unique and creative voice. Interestingly enough, while I couldn't get into his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son, I enjoyed his previous short story collection, Emporium, so I had high hopes for his newest collection, Fortune Smiles. And I'm pleased to say that Johnson didn't disappoint me—nearly all of the six stories in this collection were powerful, a few were very moving, and at least one was a bit disturbing.

In my favorite story in the collection, "Interesting Facts," a terminally ill woman grows increasingly angrier about the thought of her husband and family moving on after her death. A programmer tries to deal with his wife's mysterious illness in "Nirvana" by speaking with a simulation he created of the recently assassinated president. In "Hurricanes Anonymous," a UPS driver searches for the mother of his young son, whom she abandoned to his care, while dealing with other emotional challenges as well as life in Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The warden of a notorious Stasi prison in East Germany is the protagonist of "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine," and he has some trouble reconciling his memories of his job with those who try and tell the prison's story. And "Dark Meadow" chronicles the struggles of a IT repairman who also happens to have a bit of a child pornography addiction, although he doesn't see it that way. (Interestingly enough, Johnson revisits North Korea, the setting for The Orphan Master's Son, in the title story of this collection, and I found it to be the weakest.)

While Johnson's storytelling ability is outstanding, I feel his greatest strength comes from the characters he has created. These stories are longer than your average short stories and some pack more of a punch, but the characters have stuck in my head the most. The stories are at times quirky, but they're tremendously compelling and get under your skin, which for the most part is a good thing. If you're a short story fan, or a fan of Johnson's, definitely give this one a read.

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