Ling Ma’s constant return state

Women in novelists Ling MaTheir universes always find themselves either on the run (escape from a pandemic ravaging New York, chasing old lovers, fleeing into otherworldly portals) or crippled in some famous state meaning (foreign airport, a bad drug trip) that they desperately wake up from. In her new collection, Bliss Montage, each story is not posted as a separate memorized dream sequence, and the rules of dream logic are supreme. Stories nested within stories in a vividly realized world, with minimal reason: A useless rich husband speaking in dollar signs; Why doesn’t a yeti hit you at the bar? In the eight stories of the book, the dream itself also serves a narrative purpose. Her characters find themselves in other people’s REM cycles, or use sleep (or freezing) to escape short-term consequences — in the face of their own betrayal, a person ex-boyfriend said, “I think I’m dreaming.” It came as no surprise, then, that when I met Ma over lunch in Lower Manhattan, she told the premise of many of these stories that began as dreams.

“If I remember a dream, I really feel like there’s some kind of anxiety attached to it — some kind of nerve-wracking premise,” Ma said, austere in her short bob and plain black t-shirts, while we watched the trains swoop across the Manhattan Bridge from our vantage point outside the Golden Diner. 39-year-old author in town Bliss Montageweek of publication, and she describes the eerieness of a reading she had read the night before, that was the writer’s fantasy-nightmare combination as all eyes were on her.

“I feel like I’m about to be cannibalized,” she laughs, evoking the casual violence interspersed with much of the language of her short story – “Blood-colored confetti”; a mother whose children are “one after another”—the sudden turn of the tongue revealing all is never as it appears. Ma herself is full of these fascinating casual admissions (briefly, we discuss the potential cultivation potential of her “ground floor, lower floor” when engaging in Transcendental Meditation) , and understandably the reader’s reaction would be, well, consume in the tumultuous few years since Ma published his first novel, Quit, about the apocalyptic pandemic ravaging the world — in 2018.

I asked Ma what surprised her the most QuitAscension is arguably the oldest pre-COVID novel we have about America’s ability to handle a real-life virus pandemic (plus a calculation with capitalism). She admits that her initial fear was that the novel, written between 2012 and 2016, would actually become outdated, especially as the Trump era begins. “He opened up to this new sense of absurdity,” she said. “If you’re going to put in a novel, in 2012, a lieutenant governor said, ‘We need to sacrifice our grandparents for the sake of the economy’, that’s really amazing. “Long before the quarantiners started roaming the streets QuitCandace Chen’s performance in an abandoned New York, before real-life corporations started trying to show up at the office amid widespread illness, startled the shark. (For those curious as to whether Ma has since enjoyed another major pandemic-themed fiction, Station Eleven, she watched the first episode of the show and plans to continue watching.)

For Ma, write Quit was intended as a way to distill her coming-of-adult anxieties as an English major admitted to the University of Chicago in the days after 9/11 (“During Orientation for Students”). freshman, one of the events taking place at Hancock Tower, at the top; there’s all the talk like, ‘Should we be here? Is that the goal?’), after it was an observer of the 2003 SARS pandemic, then a cog in the publishing supply chain and then layoffs Playboy fact checker (Ma treated the severance pay as a kind of writing scholarship, so that started Quit). Ma explains of the novel: “If I unfold it into a paragraph, I can immediately understand the sense of doom that used to be a part of my life in my 20s.” And the feeling of lethargy and detachment. apart from that.”

Of course, self-imposed déjà vu is an age-old technique, although the loops in Ma’s life have become more apparent lately. “I went back a lot to my past,” she says of her position teaching creative writing on the same University of Chicago campus now, even writing extensively. Bliss Montage back to the same apartment before the school she started Quit a decade ago. Ma’s process involved two changes: First drafts were handwritten, then transferred with revisions to a laptop, in the case of Bliss Montage, was lying down — because Ma was pregnant at the time (another auspicious return: her ob-gyn was in the same building as the old one. Playboy office, which at least has solved a puzzle that stretches back to Ma’s days when he did a reality check when he saw lingerie models and pregnant women stacked in elevators). These days, she’s living in the same neighborhood where she started as a writer in her late 20s, “so I can keep circulating,” as she puts it.

These are the starting ingredients for Ma’s brand of distinctively grounded surrealism: a familiar home (not to mention distraction free— “I can write in Chicago. I can’t be in New York! “), A Caring Cinematic Routine (“It helps you enlarge the images most effectively”), plus works by Kafka, Marilynne Robinson, and more. “I like to imitate Sherwood Anderson, the natural, casual Midwestern style of speech that I think is very elegant,” says Ma. “But then, you know, just add zombies or like sex yeti.” However Bliss Montage there are two and more, including the existence and detailed cultural customs of a made-up nation called Garboza, she is less interested in magical contortion for the sake of magical contortion . “Someone told me that my post To be she said. “I think emotional realism is what I’m aiming for.” Thus, the dreamlike qualities of these stories, where even the most bizarre plot pitfalls are secondary to the emotion at stake.

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