Review of Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

This surreal collection of short stories put me in mind of Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, and Life Ceremony.

It uses the same recipe of injecting everyday tone with bizarro aesthetics. This is upmarket bizarro. Genre fiction pretending to be literary fiction. A popular tactic nowadays.

It discusses the immigrant experience from several angles. Its characters experience disorienting isolation and loneliness. There is much less “bliss” than might be expected. The final story capitalizes on the horrors of motherhood where the earlier stories cast mothering in a demonized light. Some great pithy lines, but also some weirdly out of place ones.

For instance, she describes a house in which 100 ex-boyfriends live, how the rooms extruded from the structure. Then when the boyfriends begin to leave the rooms retract “like an old man’s balls back into his body.” That image is 100% wrong when compared to real anatomy subjected to time.

An amusing story about a Yeti and the travails of women who identify as Chinese in a society that tends to place expectations on them. It can be heavy handed but I cannot say any of it is off the mark. The scenarios are still moving and entertaining. The language is not elaborate and the imagery is striking.

The collection does what many story collections do, which is try to touch the heart while stimulating the brain. The most striking thing about them is often the unconventional structure, the blending of multiple timelines and the non-sequential storytelling.

When I read Severance I was disappointed. It is still the most boring book about zombies I’ve read. Her first book won a disproportionate number of awards. The author subsists off an aggravating number of foundations and fellowships, considering how long it too her to produce a 200-page collection.

I look forward to her next book. No thanks to Netgalley or the publisher are owed, since they denied my early access to an arc. Why, people, why?

Will she stick to short stories or give us another novel? I rather think that her subtle quirkiness is suited to short form.