Happy Friday everyone!
One of my professors likes to say that we need to read from the best so we can look for things to borrow for our own fiction. And I’m trying to follow that advice as often as possible. I decided to read Fortune Smiles because it is an award-winning collection. (It won the National Book Award for Fiction last year, an award I hope to earn one day, though I’m aiming for the Young People’s Literature category.) By the time I finished this collection, I fully understood why it was receiving so much praise.
There are six stories in this collection. They take you from sunny California to hurricane ravaged Louisiana and end in bustling Seoul. The characters in this collection are unique, but they all seek to understand the world around them and connect with someone. I wasn’t too excited when I finished the first story, “Nirvana” but I was genuinely blown away by the end. Adam Johnson’s style is simple, which makes it easy to follow the stories and the problems the characters face. But that’s not to say that there aren’t passages where you’re left in awe. I enjoy simplicity and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I like stories where I can sit back and immerse myself in the world around me. It sounds strange, but I felt comfortable around most of these characters. I felt for them and I think’s that should be the goal of any author.
The six stories are longer than a typical short story. The longest story, “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine” is about 63 pages long, while the shortest story, “Nirvana” is about 39 pages long. Since the stories are so long, Johnson can take his time and explore the immediate world around his characters. There are scenes where it may seem like simple filler, but you can tell that he is working up to something. You get this feeling that if you stick around, you’ll really catch a glimpse of something spectacular.
There are two stories that really stood out to me: “Interesting Facts” and “Dark Meadows.” Actually, as I write this, I realize that I loved all of the stories and I really want to talk about every single one. But I think these two stories are unique and worthy of admiring from a craft aspect. It seems like most writers write a ghost story at some point in their life. I’m not sure why that’s a thing. Maybe because ghosts don’t have to obey any authority, so there’s a lot of fun to be had in examining what a ghost would do. I’m not sure. But “Interesting Facts” is a ghost story, though I didn’t really grasp that until about halfway through. The story teeters between the real world and the spiritual world and it’s not until the end that you realize which world the main character has inhabited for the majority of the time. And I think it takes real skill and dedication to achieve a balance like that. “Dark Meadows”, on the other hand, is interesting because it follows a pedophile who struggles to do the right thing. This story and “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine” made me empathize with two people who I thought I would never see in a positive light. By the end of “Dark Meadows” I was split between believing that the main character would do the right thing and believing that he would succumb to his temptations.And again, that balance is not something every author can accomplish in their work.
I enjoyed this collection and I believe that it is one of those books where I have to reread it to better appreciate the stories. I plan on going back to some of these stories in a few months because I know I will love them even more than I do now. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys good writings, well fleshed out characters and unique stories.