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Severance: A Novel
by Ling Ma

Published: 2018-08-14
Kindle Edition : 290 pages
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Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize, A PEN/Hemingway Finalist, A New York Times Notable Book of 2018, An Indie Next Selection

A Best Book of 2018 at Elle, Marie Claire, Refinery29, Bustle, Buzzfeed, BookPage, Bookish, Mental Floss, Chicago Review of Books, HuffPost, Electric Literature, Amazon ...

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Introduction

Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize, A PEN/Hemingway Finalist, A New York Times Notable Book of 2018, An Indie Next Selection

A Best Book of 2018 at Elle, Marie Claire, Refinery29, Bustle, Buzzfeed, BookPage, Bookish, Mental Floss, Chicago Review of Books, HuffPost, Electric Literature, Amazon Editors', A.V. Club, Jezebel, Vulture

"A fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination. . . A stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring." Michael Schaub, NPR.org

Maybe it’s the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma’s offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance.

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.

So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies cease operations. The subways screech to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a moving family story, a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale, and a hilarious, deadpan satire. Most important, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of August 2018: You might read this book for its wickedly serrated, apocalyptic humor: two driven young women continue to show up at their Manhattan publishing jobs even as they’re among the last people left in the city. You might go in for the love story of two twentysomethings who meet over cigarettes on a shared fire escape. Or, you might pick the book up to experience how deftly the author captures the violent ennui of youth in the character of Candace Chen. Candace avoids overthinking how to build a meaningful life – and tries not disappoint her immigrant parents – while working in the production department of a publishing house and, later, photographing the ruins of New York for her anonymous blog. Certainly, fans of dystopian fiction will savor the understated horror of how the world ends. Most everyone contracts a mysterious disease that impels them to continuously reenact a common routine from their life. A particularly gruesome scene involves a family going through the motions of dinner as they physically waste away: the emaciated mom sets the table as the rest of the family sits down in their places to vigorously lick the plates and mouth the cutlery…only to return the plates to the cupboard and repeat the scene again. It’s these zombies that Candace and the small group of survivors she joins encounter on supply raids – and who are ‘mercifully’ shot dead by Bob, the group’s ruthless leader. Severance raises questions about how loneliness shapes identity, the hilarity and horror of the human capacity to normalize, and the stupefying effect of an urge for comfort (while also digging a well of empathy for those drawn to the familiar). Funny and upsetting, with a strange and noble stillness at its core, this deceptively light read will leave readers wanting the story to continue even after learning Candace’s big secret. --Katy Ball

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