Ling Ma's award-winning first novel, "Severance," was a pandemic narrative written pre-pandemic. Her new story collection, "Bliss Montage," is similarly insightful, showing readers the darkness of our time but delivering it with an astute approach that often becomes surreal.

"Bliss Montage" opens with "Los Angeles," a grim fairy tale of a woman who lives with her husband as well as 100 ex-boyfriends. There's humor via the husband, who speaks in dollar signs, and the image of all the boyfriends piling into one car, but these ridiculous moments also expose how old relationships can weigh you down. Ma gets right, both here and throughout her collection, the way that the absurd can highlight reality.

Another early story, "G," is about the friendship between two women who immigrated as children from China. The titular G is a drug that allows for literal invisibility. As the narrator, Bea, explains, "No one looks at you, no one assesses you. It lifts the tiny anvil of self-consciousness. You can go anywhere, unimpeded by the microaggressions of strangers."

With invisibility working on both the literal and symbolic level, suddenly a fantastic world comes right back down to our judgmental earth. The story, like the book, is thoughtful, funny and haunting, similar to those moments during sleep that you aren't sure are a dream, a nightmare, or a warped reflection of the day.

The book also displays a smart awareness of structure. This beautifully written collection contains multiple metanarrative moments when an element of the story's construction is revealed. For instance, in "Peking Duck," the characters in a creative writing workshop ask: "Can the writer, who's retelling another's story, really assume authorship?" Then the narrator shares her mother's story, invoking those questions of autobiography, fiction, appropriation and creativity.

Similarly, in the exceptional piece "Office Hours," a film professor, who has her own adventure with an unexpected location, teaches about dream spaces. In response to one such lesson, a student posits, "The movie doesn't show you the answers. The ending simply opts out," and so this story asks readers to consider both its content and shape.

The engaging stories in this collection are linked by theme but each piece also stands on its own. "Bliss Montage" was a joy to read even as it announced the problems of our reality — and, really, because of this discernment. The book is filled with echoes and illusions, yetis and drugs. It has a feeling similar to what one character tells us: "When the déjà vu came, it was like drowning." The work is dark and fantastic and very, very true.

Abby Manzella is the author of "Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Displacements," winner of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Book Award.

Bliss Montage

By: Ling Ma

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 228 pages, $26.