Written by Ling Ma
Published by Picador USA, May 7th, 2019
My star rating – 4 stars
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.
This was….. interesting….. and I say that in a good way! I’ve heard a lot about this book over the past few months. It seems as though there are quite a few of you out there who like to torture themselves with a dose of 2020 reality lol. This book is about a pandemic….. see what I mean by a dose of 2020 reality? This is a VERY character driven story about a young woman named Candace Chen, a millennial, as she attempts to survive a pandemic that’s wiping out the worlds population…. so basically, I would list this as a horror because it’s the only type of book that I see as scary – something so real and relatable to the moment that could actually happen….
Before I go into my thoughts, I feel the need to mention the formatting of this book, only because it was a little jarring to me in the beginning. There are no quotations for dialogue. It’s not that bad but, it was a little hard to get used to in the beginning. I would start to read a paragraph expecting one thing but it was actually the characters talking. You get used to it quick, but just a heads up!
What I found most powerful about the narration of Candace is that we see her throughout the years. It’s not a linear timeline. We jump from current day devastation, back to when the pandemic started, then back even further to memories of her childhood, family, and friends. It’s a little jarring at first though. You’re reading about her moving to New York and finding her place in the world and then all of a sudden you’re reading about how much her mother liked Clinique skin care….. all of these details have a feeling of unimportance and it aggravated me that I was spending time reading about all of this. But, in the end, those minor details are the most important things. The world is ending, slowly but surely. It starts small then moves to the point where the world stops being productive and everyone is suddenly taking as much time with their families as they can. THAT is the point of all of this. It’s not your typical fast paced novel where people are taking one step after the next to survive. This book takes the time to point out the small things in life that, in the end, being the only important things about living.
Even though this book lacked in a break neck pace, it more than made up for it with atmosphere! The ominous undertones of suspense made me anxious! I felt like there was always something lurking in the next chapter, just waiting to jump out and grab me. As the author lays out the details of this woman life, you start to piece everything together and make an entire picture of her existence. You see her as woman who is blissfully happy one minute, knowing full well what’s about to become her future…. and wait for the other shoe to drop.
It was all so quietly terrifying! Not terrifying in the way of axe murderers, ghosts, or anything else like that. It was the reality of it all that scares you – especially with the climate of 2020! The smallest of scenes were written so vividly and held nothing back in their descriptions, and made to relate these scenes to yourself and your experiences. There were maggots on dead bodies, a diseased family repeating a dinnertime ritual, being immune to a disease that kills everyone around you, and surviving with a group of strangers that you need but can’t trust…… uh huh…. that scares me more than an axe murderer!
There are so many people that read this book and spot the commentary on important issues in society. Millennials who don’t have a work ethic, businesses that abuse their employees by exploitation, valuing their jobs too much and placing their employment on a pedestal, staying in a position because it’s “safe”, and so much more. I’ve honestly barely touched the surface! If you’re looking for more on that, I highly recommend to read some Goodreads reviews. There are so many reviews that point on these subjects in a way that will make you think and reconsider the things that you’ve read. To be honest though – those people do a much better job at talking about all of that than I do! I read for enjoyment and don’t necessarily pick up on all the nuances the author has to offer. I notice them and think about them BUT I don’t have the intellect to explain them to you. If all of this interests you, do yourself a favour and go to Goodreads!
And if you’re looking for a book with some finality to the ending…. don’t. This book is wiiiiiide open, but done in such a way that you won’t be mad about it!
It wasn’t the best pandemic book i’ve ever read but it did offer something different than anything I’ve read. There was a lot of focus put on what these people have lost instead of putting the focus on devastation and survival. And it was a bit of a slow pace. So for those reasons I went with a 4 star rating. But this book has really set it’s roots in my mind and I think about it A LOT! I highly recommend!
Until next time, happy reading!