Eric Olson at The Millions:
Johnson, who died in 2017, was a National Book Award winner, two-time Pulitzer finalist, and the recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. George Saunders called him “Our most poetic American short-story writer since Hemingway.” It’s therefore curious that, despite wide recognition within the world of letters, Johnson’s renown hasn’t crossed into household lexicon in the manner of some recent greats (Egan, Whitehead, Franzen).
Perhaps this has to do with Johnson’s conventional surname, or the onerous length of his 2007 award-winner Tree of Smoke. More likely it relates to subject matter.
For readers looking to familiarize themselves with Johnson’s work, I recommend starting at the end and working backward. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, published a few months after Johnson’s death, represents a solid jumping-off for its varied backdrops and relative buoyancy.