cover image Self-Portrait with Ghost

Self-Portrait with Ghost

Meng Jin. Mariner, $27.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-063-16071-2

Jin (Little Gods) returns with a provocative magical realist collection in which women fall in love, grieve, and figure out what to make of their lives amid constant changes. Many of these engrossing entries take inspiration from contemporary events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump presidency. The protagonists of “The Odd Women” deal with a mysterious virus on top of the onset of puzzling superpowers, such as the ability to make themselves immaterial, change identity to match others’ expectations, and divide parts of themselves into “distinct entities, one to confront each aspect of the divided, complicated world.” Meanwhile, “In The Event” features a woman reflecting on the “obscenities of the new president,” which make her feel like she’s living in a badly written novel. Even the stories that focus on timeless themes—such as formative relationships in “Phillip Is Dead” and “First Love,” and the aftermaths of loss in “Suffering” and “Self-Portrait with Ghost”—take on a strangely elusive tone. Throughout, Jin toys with the concept of reality, which in the title story is malleable for its writer protagonist (“My novel was all about subjectivity, I said. Each character tells their version of reality and the various realities add up to something that looks more like unknowing than a solution,” the writer recounts of a conversation with the ghost of a Chinese aunt, who speaks in English despite never having learned the language). Throughout, there is beauty, wit, and pathos. This mystifying collection is a testament to Jin’s talent and versatility. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (July)