Michiko Kakutani on Adam Johnson’s “athletic mastery of the short story form”

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fortune-smilesAdam Johnson‘s newest collection of short stories, Fortune Smiles, is reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.

We’ve written about Adam, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Orphan Master’s Son too many times to list – here and here and here and here for starters. She wrote: “Johnson’s earlier writing — his 2002 story collection, Emporium, and his first novel, Parasites Like Us — also had a surreal, even sci-fi feel. And while many tales in his potent new collection, Fortune Smiles, have recognizable, contemporary settings, they, too, feature characters reeling from displacement, dislocation or emotional and cultural vertigo.”

She continues:

ST Short story Award

Our man picking up an award in London last year.

The volume’s two standouts — the title story and “Nirvana,” [we wrote about that story here] about a computer programmer who uses virtual reality to reanimate a dead American president — straddle the worlds of realism and fable, and attest to Mr. Johnson’s elastic and idiosyncratic voice: his ability to write with both tenderness and satiric verve, and his electro-magnetic feel for the absurdities of life and the human costs they represent. …

The two weakest links in this collection — “Dark Meadow” (about a pedophile) and “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine” (about a former East German prison warden) — feature such reprehensible characters that Mr. Johnson has a difficult time persuasively putting across their points of view. It’s almost as though he had challenged himself to write the tales as exercises in the limits of sympathy.

These stories should have been left on the cutting room floor, but this collection is hardly alone these days in containing unnecessary padding. But never mind. The other tales in Fortune Smiles are worth everything: They reaffirm all the gifts Mr. Johnson demonstrated in “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and like “Emporium,” they attest to his athletic mastery of the short story form.

Read the whole thing here.


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