Books

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma review: 'Dreamlike and unsettling'

A spellbinding collection of short stories by Ling Ma in which the surreal is the norm, and each story is layered with humanity and complexity

Blurry face of a woman

Bliss montage – unsettling stories that explore the toxicity of human relationships Image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma’s excellent collection of short stories, the surreal is as everyday as breakfast. Each story heralds a fresh strangeness: the yeti that lurks beneath human skin, a drug promising invisibility, and the healing potentials of live burial. In Oranges, the protagonist confronts an abusive ex by following him home, then inviting herself inside for spaghetti with his new girlfriend. Ma wryly unpacks the notion of “finding closure” when faced with the unrepentant douchebaggery of those we once loved.

Bliss Montage cover
Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma is out now (Text, £10)

Throughout Peking Duck, Ma uses metatexts to pose questions about fictional ethics and the burden of representation. In this masterpiece compiling stories within a story, the narrator, a second-generation Chinese-American writer, has her own story (about her mother’s experience as a nanny) painfully dissected, first by her MFA peers, then by her mother, who challenges this version of events. Dreamlike and unsettling, Ma’s stories are layered with emotional complexity. Her characters often struggle to realise their desires; perhaps because they are contending with systems that continually act to efface them. Ma’s collection is utterly captivating; she figures the disassociation of modern life with deep intelligence. 

Annie Hayter is a writer and poet 

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