Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

“It is in the most surreal situations that a person feels the most present, the closest to reality.”

An ingenious and effervescent collection of surreal stories that will definitely appeal to fans of Kevin Wilson, Helen Oyeyemi, and Hiroko Oyamada. Ling Ma has a knack for blending realistic dynamics and issues with absurdist ones, and, in doing so, for subverting our expectations. Ma’s storytelling is playfully irreverent and I was captivated by the fantastical scenarios she presents us with in this collection. In the first story, ‘Los Angeles’, which very much reminded me of Hilary Leichter’s Temporary, our protagonist shares a house with her many ex-boyfriends. Her current partner seems to accept the arrangement but when the exes start to find new places to live our protagonist struggles to adjust. The second story, ‘Orange’, which actually features a character from the previous story, sees a woman reflecting on a past abusive relationship and sees her determined to find where her ex, who now stands accused by many women of abuse, has gone into hiding. There is a short story that explores a friendship which includes a fantastical drug that can make you invisible. Another short story sees a professor discover a passageway to someplace else in her office’s closet. In yet another, we follow a writer who is in an MFA program and is writing about her mother’s early days as an immigrant in the US. Ma imbues real-life scenarios and issues with a dose of the surreal, making for some incredibly extraordinary and engaging stories that explore the absurdities of modern life and interrogate notions of identity, connection, and belonging.
I found Ma’s style deeply engaging and the direction of her stories surprising. I look forward to re-reading this collection soon!

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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