On this week’s episode, Ling Ma joins us to discuss her story collection, Bliss Montage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sept. 13). Ma, a Chicago-based writer hailing from Fujian, China; Utah; and Kansas; specializes in mastering and mashing up genres, as she did in her 2018 Kirkus Prize–winning coming-of-age novel, Severance, an apocalyptic satire. In the delightfully varied stories in Bliss Montage, she once again incorporates “elements of the fantastic but grounds them in a reality that is more recognizably our own.”

Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ starred review of Bliss Montage that introduces the collection’s opener and longest story, respectively: “The narrator of ‘Los Angeles’ lives with her husband, their children, and the children’s au pairs in the east and west wings of their home. Her hundred ex-boyfriends live in the ‘largest but ugliest wing.’ While the narrator takes these past lovers on outings to Moon Juice and LACMA, the husband works at an investment firm. The husband’s dialogue is rendered in dollar signs. This piece feels uncanny in the Freudian sense—as if it is peopled not by actual humans but by ghosts or automata.…The ideas of home and belonging recur throughout the collection. In ‘Returning,’ the narrator meets the man who will become her husband when they are both on a panel for immigrant authors. A trip to his native country to participate in a festival—a trip that is an attempt to salvage their marriage—ends in a macabre, desperate rite. Ma also writes about motherhood and academic life and abusive relationships. These are rich themes, and the author explores them with the logic of dreams.”

Ma and host Megan Labrise discuss the surreal experience of receiving the Kirkus Prize in 2018; the fact that Severance started out as a short story; opening story “Los Angeles”; themes of conformity and iconoclasm; fearlessness in writing; the story “Returning”; why she loves writing in first person; and much more.

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