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Fortune Smiles: Stories (2015)

by Adam Johnson

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5533431,040 (3.99)52
In the six stories in this collection, Johnson delves into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. 'George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine' follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. 'Nirvana' portrays a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In 'Hurricanes Anonymous, ' a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.… (more)

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English (34)  Piratical (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Haunting. ( )
  lasvegasbookie | Aug 20, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
To me, reading this collection was something like realizing I have accidentally thrown my grandmother's heirloom one-of-a-kind diamond ring in the trash, and it's already gone to the dump, and so I go after it and dig for a few hours through smelly refuse, before giving up. ( )
  poingu | Feb 22, 2020 |
Ok, from a literary standpoint, I get why this is a National Book Award winner... but wow. Never have I felt so beat up after reading a book of short stories. Each one of these pulls you into the life of an incredibly hard and tragic situation: a husband who's wife is in a coma, a dad who's toddler child was dumped in his UPS truck when the custodian mom is incarcerated, a mom dying of breast cancer, the administrator of WWII's Hohenschonhausen prison facing contemporary attitudes toward his life's work, an abused boy turned child-pornographer trying to self-rehab, and an accidental defector from North Korea struggling with life in Seoul. The writing and research behind each of these stories is incredibly impressive to have created such absorbing and realistic environments, but now I need to move on to something much lighter! ( )
  asawyer | Feb 18, 2020 |
I liked these stories more and more as the book progressed, though I believe the penultimate story was slightly more impressive than the final one. They were each solid with enough closure at the end for me not to feel cheated by their lack of length (a common problem for me with short stories). ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
I read Johnson's short story, Nirvana, through Penguin Random House's Season of Stories promotion. I'd already added Fortune Smiles to my ever lengthening TBR list but Johnson's name didn't click for me when I received the first part of this short story in my email. I'm glad to see that Nirvana is a part of this collection, however. It's become a solid reason to move this higher up my list.

What do weed, a presidential persona, and Nirvana lyrics have in common? Nine months after Charlotte's Guillain-Barre syndrome diagnosis, they've become liferafts for a husband and wife that are struggling to cope with what their normal currently is and what it might become. In Nirvana, Johnson throws the reader into the midst of this tensely drawn dynamic set in the near-future tech Eden of Palo Alto. Whether other people understand it or not, whether you fully understand it or not, anything can look like a liferaft when you're drowning. When you're lucky enough to find something that works, all you know is to not let go.

I think Johnson was able to flesh out the desperation of adjusting to a painful situation and new normal very well in Nirvana. There were a couple tech bits that felt odd to me. Most of which were eventually resolved to some degree, the one part that wasn't resolved still remained interesting. But the thing that sold me on this particular story and what has me eager to read more is that the struggle to cope felt realistic. This definitely isn't a peppy, feel-good short. It doesn't offer snappy one-liners that highlight a sense of empowered and inspired zen in the face of struggle. It meets these characters where they are and it acknowledges that there's a whole hell of a lot that sucks about where they are right then. Johnson acknowledges how coping takes different forms for everyone and, in the end, it really doesn't matter whether we get what works for someone else. What matters is that we care enough about the people in our lives to respect what works for them. To do whatever we might be able to in order to support that person and reach out to them where they're at instead of where we think they should be.

Peppy fluff bits can be pretty easy to dash off and even easier to consume. Spotlighting the realities of this kind of situation to the degree Johnson has been able examples a range of empathy that feels very enticing. I'll definitely be picking up this book to read more of Johnson's work. ( )
  lamotamant | Nov 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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In memory of
Thomas Mannarino, 1964-2007 and
Eric Rogers, 1970-2012
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It's late, and I can't sleep.
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In the six stories in this collection, Johnson delves into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. 'George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine' follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. 'Nirvana' portrays a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In 'Hurricanes Anonymous, ' a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.

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