Posted by: Jeanie F | January 7, 2016

Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson

Fortune Smiles


Addendum: Fortune Smiles was the winner of the 2015 National Book Award for fiction. Adam Johnson’s first novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, was the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

I am the first to admit that I am probably obsessed with short stories. I love everything about them: the brevity, the concise story lines, the fact that an author can build a world and bring me into it with so few words. At the moment, I have six short story collections on my Kindle:

  • The Stories of John Cheever (Vintage International) by John Cheever – a classic
  • Honeydew: Stories and Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman – one of the great story tellers of modern times
  • The Peripetetic Coffin and Other Stories by Ethan Rutherford – The title story alone will blow your mind!
  • Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories by Paul Theroux – who doesn’t love Theroux?
  • The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel – I was hooked on Ms. Mantel from Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

In addition to these, I am a long time subscriber to the outstanding One Story publication – “One great story delivered every three weeks”

I keep this collection on my Kindle so that any time, but especially when I have finished a novel and am not yet ready to commit to a new full length selection, I can count on having something wonderful, yet accessible, at my fingertips.

I’m now excited to add Adam Johnson’s new short story collection to those that reside permanently on my Kindle. I know that there are several I will want to return to over and over.

My first exposure to Johnson’t quirky, but captivating style, was The Orphan Master’s Son, a full length novel about the absurdities of life in North Korea that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this blog and go get it.

This collection is comprised of six somewhat lengthy short stories that cover the gamut of topics:

Nirvana is the story of a tech guy whose wife, critically ill, is obsessed with the rock group, Nirvana. The story looks at love – never in the cinematic, romantic sense – and loss. And who among us can ever predict where that scenario might take us?”

Hurricanes Anonymous takes us to post-Katrina lives that are shattered in the aftermath of the hurricane. You’ll meet characters you never even imagined but whom, as you read, you know for a fact had to exist.

Interesting Facts again explores the impact of illness upon a relationship as the wife, suffering from breast cancer, becomes obsessed with how long after she dies her husband will begin dating. With the dark humor that is a signature of all Johnson’s work, he tells her it might be twelve to sixteen weeks. She responds that getting a death certificate might be an issue to which her husband tells her, “I bet Keith [who works at city hall] could get me proof of death in no time. The dude owes me.”

George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine is the longest and darkest story in the collection – a true classic in every sense of the word. It is told from the point of view of a retired East German Stasi prison warden, the warden of the infamous Hohenschönhausen Prison. He is determined to prove that the prison was not the dark and deadly place that it, in fact, was, by joining tour groups and arguing his point of view with the tour guards, who are all ex-prisoners.

An interesting side note on George Orwell . . .  is that 21st Edition, a Massachusetts maker of art works, is publishing a $9,000.00 copy of this book. Their publications are made of goatskin covers, handmade paper, hand-stitched bindings, letterpress typography, and are illustrated with art photographs.  Johnson was contacted by 21st Editions, who asked for a story, and Johnson says, “When John wrote to me and asked for a story, I knew right away I’d give him my best work.”

That this story was the one he selected tells you something about it. You will never read a short story like it again, I promise.



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