What happens when fantasy tears through the screen of the everyday to wake us up? Could that waking be our end?
In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home.
From a woman who lives in a house with all of her ex-boyfriends, to a toxic friendship built around a drug that makes you invisible, to an ancient ritual that might heal you of anything if you bury yourself alive, these and other scenarios reveal that the outlandish and the everyday are shockingly, deceptively, heartbreakingly similar.
‘The house in which we live has three wings. The west wing is where the Husband and I live. The east wing is where the children and their attending au pairs live. And lastly, the largest but ugliest wing, extending behind the house like a gnarled, broken arm, is where my 100 ex boyfriends live. We live in L.A.’
No one writes quite like Ling Ma, an author who combines the strange and quotidian in surprising, and surprisingly heart-rending, combinations. Ma’s debut novel, Severance, written pre-Covid but featuring a deadly plague, juxtaposes the horror of a post-apocalyptic zombie landscape with the mundanity of an office satire. (If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour: it has a blistering ending that I’m still thinking about years later.) Bliss Montage, Ma’s first collection of short stories, has proven to be just as compelling a mash-up, with stories that feel so personal and real, it’s tempting to read them as autofiction. These include stories of abusive relationships, intergenerational trauma, broken-down marriages, and toxic friendships. But Ma resists such easy categorisation. After all, autobiographical readings become harder to sustain during stories such as the opener, quoted above, where a woman lives with all her ex- boyfriends or in ‘Yeti Lovemaking’, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
The stories in Bliss Montage are beautiful, heartbreaking, absurd and laugh-out-loud funny, all at once. If it feels like I’m rambling in my review, that just goes to show how much Ma’s writing speaks for itself – and refuses to let reviewers speak for it. This blistering collection is highly recommended for readers of Ottessa Moshfegh, Sayaka Murata and Samanta Schweblin.
Tristen Brudy is from Readings Carlton.
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