Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Fresh off of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son, author Adam Johnson is back with an eclectic collection of short stories. Each of the six selections offers a unique tale of a character struggling to come to terms with the realities and challenges of their lives. Johnson highlights these ethical dilemmas with his quietly assured writing.

In Nirvana, a husband struggles to cope with his wife's crippling Guillain–BarrĂ© syndrome. The couple lives in the not too distant future where technology such as Android glasses and Google lanes are commonplace. To help endure the emotional effects of his wife's physical condition, he programs an iProjector hologram of the recently assassinated U.S. President to interact with. He seeks a friend, someone to talk to about his misfortune. The hologram communicates by using bits and pieces of recordings of the President's media appearances, so any "advice" that the husband receives, comes in the form of hollow political sentiments. 

Hurricane Anonymous follows Randall, a UPS truck driver living in New Orleans during the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He is thrust into fatherhood when his young son is left at the foot of his UPS truck. With no note as to the mother's whereabouts, Randall continues to drive his routes while searching for his son's mother. Meanwhile, his mute father is on his deathbed, and his current girlfriend wants to run away with him and start a new life with their FEMA money. Randall does everything in his power to provide for his family as each of them pulls him in different directions. 

In the most personal story in the collection, Interesting Facts, Johnson assumes the voice of a wife facing the effects of breast cancer on her family. Physically and emotionally scarred by the double mastectomy that saved her life, the woman attempts to put the pieces of her life back together. She finds it difficult to accept the affection of her husband. How can he find her attractive after her surgery? Even worse, as an aspiring author herself, she enviously resents the success of her Pulitzer Prize winning spouse. The fact that Johnson's wife is a breast cancer survivor is not lost on the reader as this portrait of marital disillusionment unfolds. 

In George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine and Fortune Smiles, Johnson explores the effects of totalitarian political regimes on the people who enforce and live under them. The first tells the story of a retired warden of the East German Hohenschonhausen Prison. He lives close to the infamous facility, now a museum, and remains adamant that he participated in no wrong doing during his tenure there. He befriends the museum curator and agrees to tell his side of the institution's history. Johnson dexterously illustrates the man's belief in an invented reality that is built upon denial and fear. 

He further grapples with these themes in the title story. DJ and Sun-ho are facing the steep task of acclimating to life as liberated citizens of Korea. Years of oppression under the Northern Regime have left them weary of the freedoms their Southern counterparts enjoy. They find simple pleasure in fast-food restaurants and scratch-off lottery tickets. Still, the elder Sun-ho can't change his ways as easily as DJ. He knows that life in the North was unacceptable, but years of living there have stained his impression of the place that he now calls home. Both of these historical stories prove Johnson's skill as an author and provide examples of all the things that he truly excels at. 

The most intriguing story in this collection has to be Dark Meadows. The narrator is a man so riddled by the distinction between right and wrong that he can barely come to terms with either one. He was raped as a child and never fully recovered from the incident. Now, as a computer technician, he occasionally services the hard drives of child pornographers while simultaneously installing malware that makes their illegal activities easier to track. In a narrative that is disturbing, tragic, and surprisingly sympathetic, Johnson writes of this broken man who precariously walks the line between criminal scum and sorrowful victim.

Be it the tale of a woman facing illness or a child pornographer, a liberated citizen or an unrelenting war criminal, Johnson writes with a sincere conviction that allows readers to form independent opinions of each of his characters. Despite the varying backgrounds and situations they face, the characters in this collection are all fighting for the kind of personal victories that every human can relate to. As a cohesive unit, Fortune Smiles, offers masterful contemplations on life and the human condition that all readers can appreciate.

For more information, visit Amazon and GoodReads.

(2015, 22)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 and is filed under ,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

2 Responses to “Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson”

  1. I don't read collections of short stories too often but I do try to slip one in there from time to time. It seems like this one has a wide array of short stories and that they all have very deep problems stemming through them. I will have to check this one out some more.

    1. Even if you're not a fan of short stories, this one is worth a read purely on Johnson's writing. He didn't win that Pulitzer for nothing!


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