cover image Fortune Smiles

Fortune Smiles

Adam Johnson. Random, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9747-7

How do you follow a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel? For Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son), the answer is a story collection, and the tales within are hefty and memorable. Johnson goes deep (and long—there are only six pieces in this 300 pager) into unknown worlds. In the title story, two North Korean criminals adjust to post-defection life in South Korea; in “Nirvana,” a man deals with his wife’s illness by creating an app that lets people talk to the (fictional) recently assassinated president. Johnson lets us spend time with an East German prison commander whose former office is a tour stop in a “museum of torture”; a man coping with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and an array of personal problems; and, in “Dark Meadow,” the highlight of a very strong collection, a pedophile trying to behave himself in the face of a variety of temptations. What these very different stories have in common is their assurance: the environments Johnson creates, along with the often problematic choices their inhabitants make, are totally believable. Escaping back to North Korea by balloon? Sure. Going to AA meetings because they offer child care? Makes sense if your ex has just dumped a toddler on you in post-Rita Lake Charles. Often funny, even when they’re wrenchingly sad, the stories provide one of the truest satisfactions of reading: the opportunity to sink into worlds we otherwise would know little or nothing about, ones we might even cross the street to avoid. (Aug.)