The women in the novelist Ling Ma‘s universe always find themselves either on the run (escape from pandemic-ravaged New York, chasing former lovers, escaping into otherworldly portals) or paralyzed in a borderline state (foreign airports, a bad drug trip) that they desperately seek to wake up from . In her new collection bliss montage, Each story unfolds like a dream sequence, remembered privately, and the dream logic reigns supreme. Stories nest within stories in a vividly realized world with minimal justification: Of course, a useless rich husband speaks in dollar signs; Why wouldn’t a yeti hit on you in a bar? In the book’s eight stories, dreaming itself also serves narrative purposes. Your characters find themselves in each other’s REM cycles, or use sleep (or cryogenic freezing) to absolve themselves of short-term consequences — when an ex-boyfriend confronts his betrayal, he says, “I thought I was dreaming.” It Unsurprisingly, then, when I meet her for lunch in Lower Manhattan, Ma recounts how the premise of many of these stories began as dreams themselves.
“When I recall a dream, I feel like there’s some kind of fear embedded in it — a premise that touches a nerve,” says Ma, stern in a cropped bob cut and plain black tee, while we see trains rushing past the Manhattan Bridge from our vantage point outside the Golden Diner. The 39-year-old author is in town for Bliss Montage‘s week of release, and she describes the surreality of a reading she gave last night, that literary fantasy-nightmare combo of having all eyes on her.
“I felt like I was being cannibalized,” she laughs, recalling the casual violence that informs much of the language of her own short stories – “Bougainvillea the color of bruises”; a mother who gives children “one gangbang after another” – abrupt slips of the tongue that reveal that all is never what it seems. Ma herself is full of these casually intriguing admissions (we briefly discuss the potential sophistication of her “lower ground level” involvement in Transcendental Meditation), and it’s understandable how the reaction of readers would be, well, consume Considering the eventful years since Ma published her Kirkus Prize-winning debut novel, Severance pay, about an apocalyptic pandemic ravaging the world – in 2018.
I ask Ma what surprises her the most severance pays rise as arguably the most prescient pre-COVID novel we’ve had about America’s ability to weather a real-world viral pandemic (plus an accompanying reckoning with capitalism). She admits her initial fear was that the novel, written between 2012 and 2016, would actually end up looking dated, especially once the Trump era got under way. “He introduced this new sense of absurdity,” she says. “If you were to write a novel in 2012 where a lieutenant governor said, ‘We have to sacrifice our grandparents for something like this, for the sake of the economy,’ that really reads on the nose.” Long before quarantines started roaming the streets severance pay‘s Candace Chen in a deserted New York before real-life companies began focusing on office appearances amid widespread illnesses, reality had already jumped the shark. (For those curious if Ma has since enjoyed the other major pandemic-themed novel work, station eleven, She watched the first episode of the series and plans to continue watching.)
Write for Ma severance pay was intended as a way to distill her own fears of growing up when she enrolled in an English major at the University of Chicago days after 9/11, 2001 (“During freshman orientation, one of the classes was in the Hancock Tower at the top; there was all this talk like, ‘Shall we be up here? playboy Fact checker (Ma treated this severance pay as a kind of writing grant, so he started Severance pay). “If I open it to a paragraph, I can immediately feel that sense of doom that was a big part of my life in my twenties,” Ma explains of the novel. “And also that feeling of apathy and detachment.”
Self-imposed deja vu is, of course, an age-old technique, although the loops of Ma’s own life have become increasingly apparent of late. “I have a lot of going back to my past,” she says of her position as a creative writing teacher on the same campus at the University of Chicago, of which she writes much Bliss Montage back in the same preschool apartment where she started severance pay a decade ago. Ma’s process operates in two layers: drafts are first handwritten, then transcribed into a laptop with revisions, while in the case of bliss montage, lying down – since Ma was pregnant at the time (another promising return: her gynecologist was in the same building as the old one playboy office, which at least solved the long-running mystery of Ma’s fact-checking days when she saw lingerie models and pregnant women intersect in the elevator bank). She now lives in the same area where she started writing in her late 20s, “so I can keep circulating,” as she puts it.
These are the starter ingredients for Ma’s particularly grounded surrealism: a very familiar home base (not to mention escaping distractions – “I can write in Chicago. I can’t in New York!”), a sharp cinematic habit (“It helps you zoom in on the most efficient frames”), as well as the works of Kafka, Marilynne Robinson, and more. “I like to emulate Sherwood Anderson, that kind of Midwestern, naturalistic, understated style that I think is very elegant,” says Ma. “But then, you know, just add zombies or something, yeti sex.” Although Bliss Montage The latter and more, including the existence and detailed cultural customs of a fictional nation called Garboza, she cares less about fantastic flexing for fantastic flexing’s sake. “Someone told me that my writing is Realism, but it just masquerades as something else,” she says. “I think emotional realism is what I’m after.” Hence the dreamlike qualities of these stories, in which even the strangest plot trappings are secondary to the emotions at stake.
https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2022/09/ling-mas-continual-state-of-return Ling Ma’s Continual State of Return