Good lord, but Adam Johnson can write. I loved his novel The Orphan Master's Son, which won the Pulitzer. Now he comes to us with Fortune Smiles, a volume of six stories (not really short, for the most part). Here he explores a wide range of places: Korea, yes, but just once; Silicon Valley in the near future; post-Cold War Berlin (the former East Berlin). These are dark stories. The one set in the former East Berlin has a narrator who was a warden at a prison and carries pride for his former career, even in the face of dissent from former inmates. In another story, a man caring for his wife, who has Guillain Barre Syndrome, creates a computer program that brings a recently assassinated president back into a sort of life. The story set in Korea is in South Korea this time, but is told from the point of view of two defectors from the north who struggle to assimilate in this wildly different culture.
In two of the more chilling stories, a wife with cancer pesters her husband about how long he'd wait before remarrying--sounds like a basic premise, but I'm withholding significant details--and another story is told from the point of view of a man with pedophiliac tendencies who struggles to control them, while in turn working with police to identify other child abusers through technology.
These are complex people and complex situations. Johnson writes in deceptively simple sentences at times, but that just serves to increase the power of the stories he's telling. I was riveted to each one, and it was that happy-making situation that as I got closer to the end of the book, I slowed down, not wanting it to end.
What a writer.