Review: Severance by Ling Ma

SEVERANCE BY LING MA

Publisher: Text Publishing

Publication date:  2018

Source: Purchased

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. 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 quirky coming-of-adulthood tale and satire.

“To live in a city is to live the life that it was built for, to adapt to its schedule and rhythms, to move within the transit layout made for you during the morning and evening rush, winding through the crowds of fellow commuters. To live in a city is to consume its offerings. To eat at its restaurants. To drink at its bars. To shop at its stores. To pay its sales taxes. To give a dollar to its homeless.

To live in a city is to take part in and to propagate its impossible systems. To wake up. To go to work in the morning. It is also to take pleasure in those systems because, otherwise, who could repeat the same routines, year in, year out?”

Another book with n pretty tied up conclusion (like Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam) that I didn’t like quite so much (the ending, not the book as a whole).

New York City (again).  A flu plague (!) descends, turning people into harmless zombies stuck in the routine humdrum of everyday life which is, quite frankly, pretty terrifying – imagine being stuck washing the same set of dishes or mindlessly reading the same book for all eternity!

Our protagonist is Candace, an earnest office worker, conscientious and hardworking, determined to carry on working out her contract while the world quietly ends around her.  Eventually she joins a motley band of survivors trying to make their way to a survivors’ commune that may or may not exist in another part of the country.  

This book has elements of what I love most about post apocalypse novels … searching through abandoned houses.  I’m not sure what it says about me, but I just love it.  What is interesting about this book is that the element of fear comes from Candace’s fellow survivors rather than any kind of threat from the zombies.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but the ending felt a little abrupt and unsatisfactory, and left me wanting to know more.

4/5 stars

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