“Cancer is the worst way for a fictional wife to die.”
(Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson)
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of award winners. The Pulitzer Prize! The National Book Award! And now, ALA’s Carnegie Medal! How wonderful, how noble, to have a trained group of people pre-brand a book as a perfect read. This year, I tried to make my way through some of these newly-minted prestigious titles only to find that those I could slog through weren’t worth it and most couldn’t even carry my goodwill through the first chapters. I closed this year’s Carnegie winning The Sympathizer in disgust when it used ‘vaginal’ as a modifier for darkness. Sure, I can see that some darknesses might be vaginal – but, after the 15th useless adjective that page, my mind couldn’t stop screaming ‘Phony!’, ‘Phony!’.
Fortune Smiles, the 2015 National Book Award winner, seemed a departure from this disappointing streak of award winners. The first few stories reminded me of George Saunders’ Tenth of December for their futuristic, imaginative settings and brilliant writing. Yet, after fifty or so pages, I found myself turning the pages more to see the numbers go up than through any true curiosity about what came next. Does forced reading indicate forced writing? I can’t be sure, but the word ‘forced’ is the one that will always be associated with this book in my mind.
Buy – Borrow Now – Borrow Sometime – Avoid
Length: 320 pgs
Ending: All short stories end at the point the character or situation reveals itself
Incidental Learning: Germany, North Korea vs. South Korea
Further Reading: Just read Tenth of December – whether or not you’ve read this one first.