Ling Ma, the author of Severance brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home. A woman lives in a house with all her ex-boyfriends. A toxic friendship grows up around a drug that makes you invisible. An ancient ritual might heal you of anything—if you bury yourself alive.
The women populating these stories are not merely at the center, they are the center. As they move languorously through the world, observing and operating with a cool detachment, their questionable choices — stalking an ex-lover, having sex with a Yeti, living with her husband and 100 ex-boyfriends — fuel the narratives, and heighten their stakes ... The eight wily tales mark the return of an author whose inventive debut, Severance, urgently announced her as a writer worth watching ... an assured follow-up, a striking collection that peddles in the uncanny and the surreal, but it often lacks Severance’s zest. Some stories are confident in their strangeness and ambiguity, a handful feel like promising sketches of sturdier narratives and the rest fall somewhere in between. The connections between them are loose, tethered by similar leads ... Wry, peculiar stories like Los Angeles and Yeti Lovemaking confirm that Ma’s imagination operates on the same chimerical frequency as those of Helen Oyeyemi, Samanta Schweblin, Meng Jin. Each of these stories leans un-self-consciously into the speculative, illuminating Ma’s phantasmagoric interests. They are funny, too ... Despite their nagging loose ends, Ma’s stories stay with you — evidence of a gifted writer curious about the limits of theoretical possibility. They twist and turn in unpredictable ways and although the ride wasn’t always smooth, I never regretted getting on.
The strangeness of living in a body is exposed, the absurdity of carrying race and gender on one’s face, all against the backdrop of an America in ruin ... Ma’s meticulously-crafted mood and characterization ... Ma’s gift for endings is evident ... Ma masterfully captures her characters’ double consciousness, always seeing themselves through the white gaze, in stunning and bold new ways ... Even the weaker stories in the book...are redeemed by Ma’s restrained prose style, dry humor, and clever gut-punch endings. But all this technical prowess doesn’t mean the collection lacks a heart. First- and second-generation Americans who might have been invisible for most of their lives are seen and held lovingly in Ma’s fiction.
Freed of zombies and the monochrome of shock, Ma has more time with these stories for the force of sentiment ... Even a memoir might lapse into explanation, that ruining voice. Ling Ma knows that her silence is what lets her events float in their own logic, eventually stacking up in the space she affords them, cleverly bumped into that one last unified moment of being read.