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Saturday, April 5th, 2003


Emporium: Stories

by Adam Johnson

A review by Joseph Rogers

I picked up Adam Johnson's debut collection of stories on a whim and a week later there was no doubt it was my favorite book of the year. I love when that happens.

Emporium comes highly recommended by this reviewer's Absolute Ultimate Idol, George Saunders, of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia fame, (if you have not yet read this guy I am entirely jealous of the experience that awaits you). As the stories progress in Emporium the unreal goes from somehow acceptable to entirely believable to, by story's end, completely real and loveable. The collection brings to mind other recent titles like Gabe Hudson's Dear Mr. President, Aimee Bender's Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and Arthur Bradford's Dogwalker.

Now that the book is in paperback, I am hoping that all the friends asking to borrow my signed copy get their own. Emporium is so addictive because Johnson creates worlds that are just barely unreal and fills them with emotionally needy robots and teenage snipers, Canadian astronauts and mom-and-pop Kevlar vest dealers, a busload of rollicking cancer victims and a fatherless boy who watches his mother sleep. I'm laughing, I'm wowing, and yet all this heartbreak is hitting me in the gut, too. Johnson is a magician like that.

In all nine stories Johnson combines the surreal with the all-too-real and our own broken hearts are exposed through his amazingly inventive lunacy. There is so much longing in these stories: in the power-lifting Christian and the young man who is sleeping with his wife; in the teenage sniper and the robot that tries to be cool enough to hang with him; in the father who struggles to keep his bulletproof vest business afloat and his always armored daughter who wants her boyfriend to aim a gun at her bulletproof chest.

Sometimes Johnson is quick and witty, sometimes satirical, sometimes downright literary. But always, he is smart and funny and every story says something very true about the world we choose to make for ourselves. Those things that we all know, or think, or have some inkling of way down deep, have never been presented to us quite like this.

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