cover image Bliss Montage

Bliss Montage

Ling Ma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-29351-2

Ma (Severance) examines themes of otherness and disconnection in this fantastical and often brilliant collection. In “Tomorrow,” an arm protrudes from a woman’s vagina during her pregnancy, which her doctor says is “not ideal” but “relatively safe,” his cursory advice gleaned from a website that “looks like WebMD.” The mother, like many of the book’s protagonists, emigrated from China to the U.S. as a child; later in the story, she returns to visit her great-aunt, with whom she communicates primarily through a translation app. In “Returning,” a woman travels with her husband to his native country, the fictional Garboza, only to be abandoned by him at the airport. The protagonist, who wrote a novel about a couple who “during an economic depression, decide to cryogenically freeze themselves,” experiences ambivalence about her marriage. These stories, and the elliptical “Office Hours” (about a young woman’s semi-romance with her film professor, who has a Narnia-like magical wardrobe in his office), are enchanting, full of intelligence, dry humor, and an appealing self-awareness. On the other hand, a couple of entries—such as “Los Angeles,” about a woman living with 100 of her ex-boyfriends—don’t quite manifest into something more than their conceit. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)