Excerpt from Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fortune Smiles

Stories

by Adam Johnson

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson X
Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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Excerpt
Fortune Smiles

It's late, and I can't sleep. I raise a window for some spring Palo Alto air, but it doesn't help. In bed, eyes open, I hear whispers, which makes me think of the president, because we often talk in whispers. I know the whispering sound is really just my wife, Charlotte, who listens to Nirvana on her head- phones all night and tends to sleep-mumble the lyrics. Charlotte has her own bed, a mechanical one.

My sleep problem is this: when I close my eyes, I keep visualizing my wife killing herself. More like the ways she might try to kill herself, since she's paralyzed from the shoulders down. The paralysis is quite temporary, though good luck trying to convince Charlotte of that. She slept on her side today, to fight the bedsores, and there was something about the way she stared at the safety rail at the edge of the mattress. The bed is voice-activated, so if she could somehow get her head between the bars of the safety rail, "incline" is all she'd have to say. As the bed powered up, she'd be choked in seconds. And then there's the way she stares at the looping cable that descends from the Hoyer Lift, which swings her in and out of bed.

But my wife doesn't need an exotic exit strategy, not when she's exacted a promise from me to help her do it when the time comes.

I rise and go to her, but she's not listening to Nirvana yet— she tends to save it for when she needs it most, after midnight, when her nerves really start to crackle.

"I thought I heard a noise," I tell her. "Kind of a whisper." Short, choppy hair frames her drawn face, skin faint as refrigerator light.

"I heard it, too," she says.

In the silver dish by her voice remote is a half-smoked joint. I light it for her and hold it to her lips.

"How's the weather in there?" I ask.

"Windy," she says through the smoke.

Windy is better than hail or lightning or, God forbid, flooding, which is the sensation she felt when her lungs were just starting to work again. But there are different kinds of wind.

I ask, "Windy like a whistle through window screens, or windy like the rattle of storm shutters?"

"A strong breeze, hissy and buffeting, like a microphone in the wind."

She smokes again. Charlotte hates being stoned, but she says it quiets the inside of her. She has Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which her immune system attacks the insulation around her nerves so that when the brain sends signals to the body, the electrical impulses ground out before they can be received. A billion nerves inside her send signals that go everywhere, nowhere. This is the ninth month, a month that is at the edge of the medical literature. It's a place where the doctors no longer feel qualified to tell us whether Charlotte's nerves will begin to regenerate or she will be stuck like this forever.

She exhales, coughing. Her right arm twitches, which means her brain has attempted to tell her arm to rise and cover the mouth. She tokes again, and through the smoke she says, "I'm worried."

"What about?"

"You."

"You're worried about me?"

"I want you to stop talking to the president. It's time to accept reality."

I try to be lighthearted. "But he's the one who talks to me."

"Then stop listening. He's gone. When your time comes, you're supposed to fall silent."

Reluctantly, I nod. But she doesn't understand. Stuck in this bed, having sworn off TV, she's probably the only person in America who didn't see the assassination. If she'd beheld the look in the president's eyes when his life was taken, she'd understand why I talk to him late at night. If she could leave this room and feel the nation trying to grieve, she'd know why I reanimated the commander in chief and brought him back to life.

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From the book, Fortune Smilesby Adam Johnson. Copyright (c) 2015 by Adam Johnson. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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