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Fortune Smiles

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  9,353 ratings  ·  1,363 reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed and bestselling novel The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson is one of America's most provocative and powerful authors. In Fortune Smiles - his first book since Orphan Master - he continues to give voice to characters rarely heard from, while offering something we all seek from fiction: a new way of looking at our world.

In six
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 27th 2015 by Doubleday (first published August 18th 2015)
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Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Fortune Smiles is an award winning collection of short stories by the American writer, Adam Johnson.
Not usually a fan of short stories I did enjoy this volume and it’s encouraged me to read more.
Most of the central characters in these tales lead lonely, remote lives and are a little awkward in the world around them. The storylines are jagged and unsettling - a light is shone on the cracks in society and usually untalked-of subjects are talked about.
Fortune Smiles is an uncomfortable read at time
Glenn Sumi
It’s been a week since I finished this knockout collection of six stories – which recently won the National Book Award – and its characters continue to haunt me.

Among them are: two North Korean defectors who are lost and aimless in Seoul; a UPS delivery guy in chaotic post-Katrina New Orleans who’s temporarily living with his son (he thinks it’s his son, anyway) while the boy’s mother is AWOL and his own estranged dad is dying in LA; a former Stasi prison warden whose offensive rant while wavin
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Here we are, now entertain us....
Hello, hello, hello, how low

"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana

Adam Johnson, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer for the phenomenal The Orphanmaster's Son, won the 2015 National Book Award for this collection of six stories, which are illuminative, inventive, at times humorous, and always "prosefully" puissant, stories.

In the story "Nirvana," set in the near future, husband tries to cope with suicidal wife's paralysis along with desire to get pregnant. His wife's a b
Matthew Quann
Sometimes I read a book so good I wonder what I'm going to say about it in my review. In the case of Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles, I can only attempt to convey my absolute adoration and excitement at the writing horsepower packed into this collection.

Linking the characters over Johnson's six stories is a potent denial of their circumstances, the choices that led them there, or the realizations that might change their lives. What makes each of these stories compelling is the ways in which these
Iris P
Fortune Smiles

This is a fantastic eclectic collection of six stand-alone short stories by Pulitzer prize winner author Adam Johnson. They are almost novella-like in length, so they run a little longer than your average short story.

The geographic settings span from post-Katrina Louisiana to Berlin to North and South Korea. These stories and these characters are dark, controversial and morally complex. There's a deep sense of pain and loss that runs through all of them, but there's also a delightf
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"All this information," I say. "Yet the world is more mysterious than ever." - Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles


Seriously, these stories BREAK me. Johnson pulls each story's string to the point of breaking and then plays them beautifully with precision and dexterity. 'Interesting Facts' about crushed me -- so good

[Pause, breathe]

Blown away by every single page and every story. Seriously, I might just have to put back on my white shirt and name badge from my 19 yo missionary days and go door-to-door
Ron Charles
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The six stories in Adam Johnson’s new collection, “Fortune Smiles,” will worm into your mind and ruin your balance for a few days. From ravaged American cities to abandoned torture chambers, these pieces take place in an uncanny world you recognize but don’t. They’re all cast in an unsettling twilight of moral struggle, and each one is a miniature demonstration of why his remarkable novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

In fact, the title story, placed last in t
Elle (ellexamines)
This review begins somewhat complementary, and indeed is, on the whole. There is one story in this that is a garbage fire and a half.

George Orwell was a Friend of Mine is by far my favorite from this book: it’s a story about the moral problems of bystanding, and the ways in which collective memory can fail us. I know some found Fortune Smiles less powerful, but I appreciated its direct commentary on the problems of assimilation. Both of these stories successfully convey the mundanity of living
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As is often the case with short story collections, this one was incredibly hard for me to rate because some stories were a lot better than others. This collection was not quite what I expected - the super dark nature surprised me. Adam Johnson shows an incredible range in the stories he tells and in the characters he created. The stories take place all over the world - and one is even set in the future.

I personally prefered the stories set in the US to the ones set elsewhere; they just seemed m
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An audacious,amazing story collection, all six pearls are marvels. (Hehe.) Read whichever story and you will find yourself seriously satisfies. All of them are supremely different (only sly references between the stories remind us that a writer always has the satisfaction only gods can attain!)--think the global humanism of early millennium Alex Garland (who went on to become a significant sci-fi director; Johnson also seems destined to write for a movie or tv show or both), the directness/hearb ...more
Julie Christine
"The truth is, though, that you don't need to die to know what it's like to be a ghost."

So observes a woman dying of cancer in the story Interesting Facts, a bitter meditation on the life that will continue after she is gone.

Fortune Smiles is haunted by ghosts, nearly all of whom are still alive, but walking shadows, poor players, strutting and fretting their hours upon the stage. Some are victims: the aforementioned cancer patient, and another wife nearly paralyzed by Guillain-Barré syndro
Diane S ☔
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short stories seem to have once again surged in popularity, if one is to go by the many that have been published this year. Seems more and more novelists are either turning or returning to this form. I have never read Johnson's novel so this is my first experience with his writing and it was a successful one. Some of these stories were exceptional, but there really wasn't one I didn't like.

The themes of technology and imprisonment are a common theme among many in this eclectic collection. How we
Peter Boyle
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I love nothing more than a good short story, so when I spied the award-winning Fortune Smiles in my local bookshop (the wonderful Hodges Figgis in case you are curious), I was rubbing my hands in glee. However this is a curate's egg of a collection: at its best it's extraordinary, at its worst it's completely forgettable.

Of the six stories included, only two made any kind of impression on me. But they are both stunning. The first is a chilling account of a retired Stasi prison warden in Berlin,
Terrific. Disturbing. Thoughts that no one would say out loud. Understandable why these short stories won the National Book Award. Interesting Facts, about breast cancer, is the best in the lot. Unforgettable.

5 out of 5 stars.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2016
This is a truly masterful collection of six short stories. 5 of the 6 are longer in length, so they are actually more novellas than short stories.

The stories range from two North Korean defectors trying to make new lives in South Korea; a pedophile grappling with his past and trying to overcome his dark urges; a young mother with breast cancer coming to terms with her fate; a UPS deliveryman in post-Katrina New Orleans who is simultaneously dealing with a manipulative girlfriend and a toddler so
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
These six amazing stories are all about people disoriented and in pain from a life changing event. It could be illness, a hurricane, or the defection to another country, but whatever has happened to them, the different ways in which they respond brilliantly illuminates the world and who they are in it.

One of my favorite pieces opens with the confusing sentence: “Interesting fact: Toucan cereal bedspread to my plunge and liver.”
About half way through the story the code is revealed, and you real
I prefer reading short story collections that share an overarching theme to tie them together. With this collection, they all felt quite disparate which made it hard for me to feel fully invested in them. Though his writing is good, I wasn't compelled by many of the stories. Nothing super memorable here to me, but not the worst collection I've ever read.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I felt like I was walking in slow motion, treading water, navigating quicksand, on my way to read this book. I just couldn't get a copy in my hands! And then it won the National Book Award and I missed everything. Except I still had the pleasure of reading it during my slowest week of the year (with more time for reading!)

I was shocked when a book of short stories won the award, knocking out my favorite to win (A Little Life.) I almost wish literary awards were more like genre awards, which mor
Larry H
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Random House for making it available!

Adam Johnson is a tremendously talented writer, with a unique and creative voice. Interestingly enough, while I couldn't get into his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son , I enjoyed his previous short story collection, Emporium , so I had high hopes for his newest collection, Fortune Smiles . And I'm pleased to
Nov 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
Adam Johnson has an incredible gift when it comes to describing the darkest, most twisted thoughts and impulses of humankind, and in "Fortune Smiles", he displays it in six highly unsettling stories full of haunting imagery. To really appreciate all of his ideas, it takes a patient and alert reader, and while I wouldn't claim that engaging with these stories is fun (in these cases, it's not supposed to be), I was extremely impressed by Mr. Johnson's poetic abilities.

The protagonists we meet incl
I should probably let this great book simmer for a little while and then write the review, but that's not my style - I have to get it done as soon as I finish, otherwise I get distracted and never do it.

This has been easily the best collection of short stories I've read in the past year. I almost considered not requesting and looking up short stories, as the ones I read in 2015 weren't that satisfying.

"Fortune Smiles" is definitely on another level. The first thing that comes to mind when think
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Fortune Smiles" is a collection of six brilliantly crafted and imaginative stories. Little wonder it is the winner of the 2015 National Book Award for fiction and the 2016 winner of the Story Prize.

The stories take the reader to diverse locales - Palo Alto, Louisiana, and Los Angeles in the U.S., East Germany, and South Korea - but they all pulsate with the tribulations and pain universally experienced. They revolve around dislocated lives and relationships, irreparable loss, ghosts of the pas

What does not kill you makes you stronger.

Well strong enough to limp your way to the end like Sin-ho or breath by breath like Dark Meadow or seeking solace from holograms or clinging to interesting facts rather than drowning in pain and loss or by numbing ourselves with denial.

This was a tough read but so so beautiful in giving us bits of people challenged by adversity and we see the human spirit fighting to survive in any which way possible, just step after step. Johnson gives tough stories an
lark benobi
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.
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If I knew the sound your heart makes when it is pierced and wrung out, I would type those letters here, or if there was only an emoji -- it would be so much easier because sometimes words just aren't enough. The stories here just killed me; they turned me inside out; they made me want to dig my fingernails into my palms and cry out loud -- then read more; because this book defines that green flash moment, that explosion of something brilliant when light and dark meet, when beauty and pain clasp ...more
Rob Slaven
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book free for review from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than the typical vacuous 5-star reviews.

This book is comprised of six very dark but very different stories. The protagonists range from child pornographer to North Korean defector to cancer patients. In each case, the characters are
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This new collection of six short stories might as well have been called “Fortune Smirks” for the simple reason that it does. Adam Johnson’s characters are all tragic – a software engineer whose wife is suffering from Gillian-Barre syndrome, a former warden of an East Germany Stasi prison, a down-and-out man and his young son in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a woman staving off cancer, a pedophile, two North Korean defectors who feel displaced in the South.

It sounds like the recip
An eclectic mix of short stories all having intersecting themes of escape, fear, loss and nostalgia. I've never been much of a short story lover, but this book makes me think that I just haven't read many really good ones. The author seems to have the craft down perfectly, with just the right amount of character, tension and imagery. And he knows just when and how bring it to climax. Each story had strength on its own, but as a curated collection, their impact was enforced. I was trying to build ...more
Vit Babenco
Dec 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Fortune Smiles is a fake postmodern – a set of gaudy trash. Stumbling from cyberpunk parody to ridiculous dystopia to perverted horror everything tends to sound garishly bombastic.
“‘You’ve got your friends and family. And you’ve got technology. The whole world is at your fingertips.’ By friends, I meant her nurses and physical therapists. By family, I meant her distant and brooding mother.”
Why did Kurt Cobain blow his brains out? He couldn’t endure writing crap anymore. And now Adam Johnson is o
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Six beautifully written short fiction pieces covering an array of topics and themes. "Interesting Facts" is a deeply personal story that had me scouring all online sources for answers to its verisimilitude; it has enough honesty in its fiction to create teeth-grinding discomfort in its intimacy.

"George Orwell was a friend of mine" was my personal favorite of the stories and makes me want to read more fiction told from the viewpoint of former East Germany citizens.

I read "Dark Meadow" aloud to
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Adam Johnson was born in South Dakota and raised in Arizona. He earned a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University in 1992; a MFA from the writing program at McNeese State University, in 1996; and a PhD in English from Florida State University in 2000. Johnson is currently a San Francisco writer and associate professor in creative writing at Stanford University.

He founded the Stanford Graphi

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