Friday, March 4, 2016

What The Story Prize Judges Had to Say About Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles

Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
When the three judges for The Story Prize make their choices, they provide citations for the books. This year's judges were Anthony Doerr, Rita Mead, and Kathryn Schulz. We include the citations in congratulatory letters we present to each finalist, along with their checks ($20,000 to the winner, $5,000 to the other two finalists). To protect the confidentiality of the judges' votes and the integrity of the process, we don't attribute citations to any particular judge.

Here's what the judges had to say about the winner of The Story Prize for books published in 2015, Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles:

“In ‘Hurricanes Anonymous,’ one of the six stories in Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles, a man driving down a road in storm-struck Lake Charles notes an eerie absence: He can't see any reflections in the windows that he passes, because, after the hurricane, there are no windows left. That is a characteristic Johnson observation, astute and unsettling, and it reminded me of the stories themselves, each of which casts a character into an unbarriered darkness: illness, political unrest, natural disaster, sexual violence, imprisonment. Against that darkness (some of it remembered, some if it unfolding, some of it merely dreaded), communication keeps faltering: A father cannot understand his toddler's strange babble; an elderly man's tracheotomy keeps him from speaking with his son; a hologram of an assassinated president mock-converses in remixed fragments of speeches he gave while still alive. Yet for all the disconnect and tragedy, there is something warm and comic and bright about these stories. Johnson writes like Rembrandt painted, richly and specifically, with an inclination toward self-portrait and a gift for making it seem like a whole world carries on not only within but beyond each of these small canvasses.”
“There is not one weak story in this collection. Along with crafting prose that pulls you in and doesn’t let go until it’s finished with you, Johnson excels at creating characters that are both deeply flawed and entirely human and putting them into situations that are at once believable and surreal. Johnson does not shy away from difficult material, but instead uses it to explore the most harrowing moments of the human experience, blending elements of history, science fiction, and psychological horror. Yet, somehow, there is an undercurrent of faint hope that weaves through these stories, as though to say that people can overcome anything, but only if they are willing to face their own weaknesses. A gripping exploration into human nature as told through mesmerizing scenes that will leave you thinking long after you’ve finished reading.”