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.
Ling Ma’s speculative short story collection Bliss Montage presents eight surreal stories exploring the limits of fantasy on the everyday.
A couple of my favourite stories are Los Angeles, G and Returning. Set largely in the confines of reality, there is a small tweak to each story that introduces fantastical and speculative elements. From a housewife who lives in a mansion with 100 of her ex-boyfriends, and a woman who crafts a short story that differs from how her mother remembers the documented events, to a story of two estranged friends reuniting over a drug that turns the user invisible.
“The conversation was smooth and friendly, all surface. I told him a bit about my job now, as a copy editor at a law association. He told me about dog walking, but mostly about his monied clients. He seemed to know a lot about them, their vacation homes and travels, their careers and connections.”
Across the course of the collection, explored themes include isolation, relationships, memory, abuse and immigration. And with women driving each of these stories, they take centre stage in each of these absurd realities and act as a haunting observer.
Ling Ma’s stories capture the ongoing trajectory of the plot and are less focused on the aftermath. We meet characters in the midst of the tension that builds in their life, and with such a calm nature to Ma’s writing, our attention is maintained throughout each story.
“After my roommate kicked him out, the phone would ring periodically in the middle of the night, back when we still had a landline. When I picked up, a voice would say, ‘I miss you.’”
Arguably, some characters feel too detached from their reality – they observe but there doesn’t seem to be much engagement with the actions or characters around them. We don’t gain a full sense of how the characters feel about their circumstances. Whilst the writing is stripped and observant, sometimes I would’ve loved a bit more interaction and understanding of the protagonists.
“But that wasn’t even it, not really. There wasn’t any defining incident that convinced me to finally stop speaking to Bonnie. More that, after college, I began to notice how she increasingly critiqued me, mostly with jabby comments about my body.”
Observant and taut, Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage is a strong collection of surreal and uncanny short stories. Accessible for reluctant readers and those who aren’t overly keen on shorter fiction. Readership skews 25+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.