My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FORTUNE SMILES is the result of a Pultizer-winning author setting out to define the delicate line that separates the nearly indistinguishable facets of our lives. From East Germany to South Korea, in times past, present, and future: the line runs, thinly. As author Adam Johnson writes here, “The tricky part…is telling the difference between the two.”
Father, son; husband, wife; punisher, victim: in six short stories, Johnson articulates the interwoven perspectives of each. His show: we’re not all that different, you and I.
“I just needed to save somebody, and with the president, it didn’t matter that it was too late.” With his wife paralyzed and suffering from Guillain–Barré syndrome, our narrator sets about to resurrect the President via personal iProjectors. In a not-unfamiliar futuristic state of Google lanes and Android glasses, Johnson through soft-toned, clear-as-day descriptions such as the “long lashes and big, manga brown eyes” or “bad sushi chefs ward[ing] off Twitter trolls”, cuts to the heart: whom do we love?
Randall’s father is dying; his son’s mother: missing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, embittered Randall finds himself driving UPS routes with his still-in-diapers son, where “instead of seeing yourself in the windows of passing hosues, your reflection falls into their dark rooms.” He’s upset at seeing “what happens when Wal-Mart is your first responder” and that “nobody gave him free clothes and prepaid calling cards after he was evicted last year.” More importantly, he discovers what it means to be a father when all hell—familial and societal—surrounds him.
Adam Johnson steps in as the voice of his wife, telling a story full of autobiographic moments. Like nothing I’ve seen; my heart has been uniquely touched. Full of her “interesting facts”, she struggles with her husband adoring her “even though I had a double mastectomy.” Hilarious at times, judging other woman’s assets as being able to “do everything but chew bubble gum and make Hello Kitty hearts”, and then turning with phrases like ““Then it really hits you that you’re trapped inside a dying woman. You’re being buried alive.” Truly, this story shows: “The most vital things we hide even from ourselves.”
George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine
The daughter poses the challenge to the former German Prison warden: “I grew up with milk wagons driving down our street.” No, not milk. There holds a symbol of deception, especially of oneself. He says he wasn’t a bad father or a horrible man. Though, the narrator questions why his wife left along with being constantly reminded by the “recovering their voices” of his once imprisoned, no longer anonymous captives. He ponders with “all this information” today, “yet the world is more mysterious than ever.”
“In the world I no longer inhabit, where people exist only online, fantasy and deed are indistinguishable.” Similar to Tom Perrotta’s LITTLE CHILDREN, Johnson questions who is the thief and who is the victim. “You have to understand that I have never hurt anyone in my life and that I am the one who gets wounded in this story.” It is hard to tell the wounded, who felt “stubble against the back of your neck” during early childhood, and the sad, yet want-to-do-good remains of today.
Johnson returns to the land of THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON. Two defectors: “the longer they were here, the more it seemed their roles were reversing.” Viewing South Korea’s westernized culture of double-stack burgers and K-pop shoes, the philosophy of losing a country begins. Gone is the simple life, the nights of electric-less conversations. Now, the nights are illuminated via vast commercial-full television channels. Though a world away, the application is local.
Adam Johnson’s writing goes beyond the skill of craft. As Ron Charles of The Washington Post says of this book, “FORTUNE SMILES will worm into your mind and ruin your balance for a few days.” Reading this will give you an all-points vantage of the world we live. A must, must read.
There is a preview of this book, along with other reviews, here on Amazon: Fortune Smiles: Stories