Smarty Pants Podcast

The Fantasy of Real Life

Ling Ma on telling stories that see our world sideways

By Stephanie Bastek | October 21, 2022
James Butler (Flicker/slimjim)
James Butler (Flicker/slimjim)

In 2018, the writer Ling Ma published Severance, which promptly won several literary prizes but only hit the big time in 2020. The novel follows Candace Chen, who continues to go to her unfulfilling job in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that slowly fills the world with slack-jawed zombies. You can guess why it was popular. This fall, Ma is back with a new collection of stories, Bliss Montage, which imagines a number of other surreal scenarios, such as a drug that makes you invisible, a dream job that just might open a literal door into a dream world, and a manual on Yeti lovemaking. One of Ma’s characters lives in an L.A. mansion with her 100 ex-boyfriends; another visits her husband’s homeland, where people bury themselves alive in an annual festival in hopes of curing their physical or psychic ills. Bliss Montage’s eight stories are, above all, about the fictions we tell ourselves to survive the delusions of modern life.

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