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Severance: A Novel Kindle Edition
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Winner of the 2019 NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award
Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction
Winner of the 2019 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
Winner of the 2019 Friends of American Writers First Prize in Literature
Finalist for the 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Shortlisted for the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction
A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
An NPR Best Book of 2018
An Elle Best Book of 2018
A Marie Claire Best Book of 2018
A Buzzfeed Best Book of 2018
A Refinery29 Best Book of 2018
A Jezebel Favorite Book of 2018
A Bustle Best Book of 2018
An Electric Lit Best Novel of 2018
A Lit Hub Best Book of 2018
A BookPage Best Book of 2018
A Bookish Best Book of 2018
A Mental Floss Best Book of 2018
A Chicago Review of BooksBest Book of 2018
A HuffPost Best Fiction Book of 2018
An Electric Literature Best Book of 2018
An A.V. Club Favorite Book of 2018
A Jezebel Favorite Book of 2018
A Vulture Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2018
Longlisted for the Aspen Words Prize
A Book of the Month Club Selection for December 2018
Shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award
New York Magazine Approval Matrix, "Highbrow Brilliant"
An Indie Next Great Reads Selection
A Southern Living Best New Book of Summer 2018
A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2018
An Alma Favorite Book for Fall
A Nylon Best Book of Summer 2018
A Chicago Magazine Summer Reading Pick
A Library Journal Summer Fall Best Debut Novel
An April Magazine Most Anticipated Book of 2018
A BookBub Laugh-Out-Loud Book of 2018
A Library Journal Debut With Credentials
A Refinery29 Best New Book of August 2018
A Greenlight Bookstore Pick in Brooklyn Paper
“Severance is the most gorgeously written novel I’ve read all year; when I finished it, I immediately picked it up and read it all over again.” ―Jane Hu, The New Republic
“Severance is the best work of fiction I’ve read yet about the millennial condition―the alienation and cruelty that comes with being a functional person under advanced global capitalism, and the compromised pleasures and irreducibly personal meaning to be found in claiming some stability in a terrible world. I love how, in this novel, doom is inevitable, and yet it comes so slowly you might not even notice it. Ling Ma has written one of my favorite novels of the year.” ―Jia Tolentino, New Yorker staff writer
“A satirical spin on the end times―kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers.” ―Estelle Tang, Elle
"[A] standout debut. Satiric and playful―as well as scary . . . Ling Ma is an assured and inventive storyteller [and her novel] reflects on the nature of human identity and how much the repetitive tasks we perform come to define who we are. . . . A sardonic wake-up call." ―Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, National Public Radio
"[A] semi-surreal sendup of a workplace and its utopia of rules, not unlike Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End . . . Laced within Ma's dystopian narrative is an arresting encapsulation of a first-generation immigrant's nostalgia for New York . . . Severance evokes traces of . . . Joan Didion." ―Antonia Hitchens, The New York Times Book Review
"How do you fit a zombie novel inside an immigrant story inside a coming-of-age tale? Ling Ma . . . accomplished this feat in her gripping and original turducken of a novel . . . Fascinating." ―Trine Tsouderos, The Chicago Tribune
“Ma’s prose is, for the most part, understated and restrained, somewhat in the manner of Kazuo Ishiguro . . . Ma is at her most deft when depicting this kind of severance: the amputation of the immigrant’s past, preserved like a phantom limb whose pain is haunted with absence.” ―Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker
"Gorgeously wacky." ―Hillary Kelly, Vulture
“Tense and elegant, Ma’s writing here masterfully treads the line between genre fiction and literature. Part bildungsroman, part horror flick, Severance thrillingly morphs into a novel about self-worth, about the kinds of value we place on our own lives.” ―Larissa Pham, The Nation
“Ling Ma’s extraordinary debut encompasses many genres and might just be the first and only coming-of-age, immigrant experience, anti-capitalist zombie novel you’ll ever need." ―The Cut
“Ma’s writing about the jargon of globalized capitalism has a mix of humor and pathos that reminded me a little of Infinite Jest and a little of George Saunders.” ―Emily Witt, The New Yorker
"If Dawn of the Dead and all things zombie are your happy places, read Ling Ma's Severance . . . Candace serves as the anti-Everyman ― a lens through which others can see themselves in post-apocalyptic narratives . . . Like Dawn of the Dead, Severance centers on American consumerism, materialism, and misinformation without being preachy." ―New Times Broward/Palm Beach
"I recommend [Severance] unreservedly: it’s perfect for when you’re living in that space between “oh shit, what if the world ends” and “oh shit, what if the world doesn’t end”―and truly, who isn’t living in that space right now?" ―Katie Yee, Lit Hub
“Ling Ma’s Severance . . . sneaks up on you from all sides: it’s an affecting portrayal of loss, a precise fictional evocation of group dynamics, and a sharp character study of its protagonist, Candace Chen.” ―Tobias Carroll, Tor.com
"Ling Ma delivers a fascinating coming-of-age novel, one full of millennial culture, post-apocalyptic adventures, and, perhaps most exciting of all, a zombie-like populace . . . Severance wonderfully demonstrates how the lifestyles we lead now can have a great impact on our future.” ―M. M. Silva, Zyzzyva
"Shocking and ferocious . . . a fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination. . . a wicked satire of consumerism and work culture . . . It's a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring: This is the way the world ends, Ma seems to be saying, not with a bang but a memo." ―Michael Schaub, NPR.org
"A suspenseful adventure that doubles as a sly critique of late capitalism." ―Boris Kachka, Vulture
"Funny, frightening, and touching.... Ling Ma manages the impressive trick of delivering a bildungsroman, a survival tale, and satire of late capitalist millennial angst in one book, and Severance announces its author as a supremely talented writer to watch." ―The Millions
“As debut novels go, Severance is about as original and assured as they come.” ―Laura Pearson, The Chicago Tribune
"If satirist Gary Shteyngart wrote his version of 2015 end-of-world breakout Station Eleven, it would be this compulsively readable book." ―Mind Body Green
“Ling Ma’s debut novel tackles countless themes―immigration, work culture, family, capitalism, and the confusing aimlessness of your early 20s―with a dry wit that keeps the horrific digestible, the repetitive laughable, and the pages turning.” ―Marie Claire
"Astounding . . . Ma’s engrossing, masterfully written debut transforms the mundane into a landscape of tricky memory, where questions of late-stage capitalism, immigration, displacement and motherhood converge in such a sly build-up as to render the reader completely stunned." ―BookPage
"Ling Ma’s debut novel is a weird and funny story that melds an end-of-the-world collapse of civilization with a sharp critique of modern work culture, along with a dose of meditation on grief and the immigrant experience." ―Chris Kim, OZY
"A brilliantly unsettling dystopian novel following a young woman who somehow escapes a fever epidemic and joins a cult-like group of fellow survivors." ―Bust
"The book I loved most of all in 2018, the queen of the stack (if you will), is Severance . . . It’s I Am Legend for the plugged-in, globally conscious, thinking woman. I could not be more obsessed." ―Siobhan Jones, Book of the Month Club
"Ma's writing is compelling and cogent, perfectly satirizing a world that often feels beyond parody." ―Nylon
“[Severance is] a book about work that puts the work in the context of globalization, a book that is mordant and sad and full of quicksilver allegories. I loved that book so much.” ―Lydia Kiesling, The Millions
"Ma's language does so much in this book, and its precision, its purposeful specificity, implicates an entire generation. But what is most remarkable is the gentleness with which Ma describes those working within the capital-S System. What does it mean if a person finds true comfort working as a 'cog' in a system they disagree with? Is that comfort any less real?" ―Buzzfeed
"What Ma accomplishes with her fever-stricken world is what sets Severance apart. Rather than take the end of days as a chance for the usual pontifications on societal collapse―most seemingly ignorant that we built society from nothing the first time, and we would certainly do it again―Ma uses the disaster trope for interrogation on a scale small enough to lacerate.” ―B. David Zarley, Paste
“A satiric vision that takes in late capitalism, the immigrant experience, and the anomie of early adulthood." ―Library of America
“With exquisite pacing, Ling Ma alternates between Candace’s precarious present and her childhood as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and contemplates the possibility of a future in a lonely, blasted world. Severance is a scathing portrait of a society collapsing under its own ungovernable appetites, as well as a haunting meditation on family inheritance and its loss.” ―Claire Fallon, Huffington Post
"Severance meets and exceeds the promise of [its] exciting description. In many ways, Severance is a novel of ideas―it artfully blends/bends genre, it boldly indicts global capitalism, consumerism, and materialism―but every one of its intellectual aims is deeply grounded in the richly felt experiences of the narrator. ―Joseph Scapellato, Electric Lit
"For readers who love their literary fiction with a dash of apocalypse, this one's for you." ―Bookish
"Severance shares as much with Then We Came To The End, Joshua Ferris’ meditation on the failure of an advertising agency, as it does with The Walking Dead; Ma plays with voice, alternating between the first-person singular and plural to show how easily an individual comes to identify as part of a collective and how hard it is to have that group fall apart." ―Samantha Nelson, A.V. Club
"Takes the milieu of the film Frances Ha and mixes in a subdued zombie apocalypse. . . A clever and funny novel that depicts modern urban ennui and a speculative post-apocalyptic world equally well, while using its central contagion as a metaphor to critique late capitalism, globalization, and nostalgia." ―Matt Stowe, Brooklyn Paper
"I consumed [Severance] like a hungry fungal spore in two days." ―Molly Young
“Ma is satiric about the workplace, in a way that’s less snobbish than Nell Zink but just as funny and imaginative . . . All the best metaphors in the book are cleverly crafted harbingers . . . Her dexterity in joking about capitalism rivals the skill of the great Richard Powers.” ―Kaitlin Philips, BookForum
“Listen, are we just suggesting Severance to everyone, because everyone in the office read and loved it? Yes, sure. But also, post-apocalyptic novels are perfect crucibles for imagining what happens when the rules we operate under break down.” ―Electric Lit
"Ling Ma's novel Severance is an astute combination of workplace novel and apocalyptic tale. Smart and filled with humanity, this debut is one of the year's best books." ―Large-Hearted Boy
“This depiction of the Midwest feels unexpectedly of our time, at a moment when coastal nostalgia for the heartland has fixated as much on frontier sentimentalism (prairie dresses, artisanal foods) as it has dead mall videos and ruin porn.” ―Meghan O’Gieblyn, Lit Hub
"A radically understated debut novel . . . searingly underplayed." ―Constance Grady, Vox
"This quirky satire of office culture . . . imagines what would happen to a Chinese American workaholic if Manhattan were hit by a sudden apocalypse." ―Chicago Magazine
"Blends two distinct subgenres into a wholly original narrative." ―Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"A biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after . . . [Ma] knows her craft, and it shows. [Her protagonist] is a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. . . . Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written." ―Kirkus, starred review
"Embracing the genre but somehow transcending it, Ma creates a truly engrossing and believable anti-utopian world. Ma's extraordinary debut marks a notable creative jump by playing on the apocalyptic fears many people share today." ―Booklist, starred review
"In this shrewd postapocalpytic debut, Ma imagines the end times in the world of late capitalism, marked by comforting, debilitating effects of nostalgia on its characters . . . The novel's strength lies in Ma's accomplished handling of the walking dead conceit to reflect on what constitutes the good life. This is a clever and dextrous debut." ―Publishers Weekly
"A smart, searing exposé on the perils of consumerism, Google overload, and millennial malaise . . . an already established audience will be eager to discover this work." ―Library Journal
- ASIN : B078X1KJ28
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 14, 2018)
- Publication date : August 14, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 6877 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 297 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #50,728 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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This book was a decent, quick read, however - it was over way before I wanted it to be. I was turning the last page thinking thee was more - there had to be more. Instead I was left wondering what I just read and what the point of it was. Also, the authors writing style and punctuation was a bit hard to follow. I’m no English Major but the conversational formatting in this book would have gotten me a failing grade in 8th grade English class.
Maybe someone smarter than figured out the ‘layered meanings’ that this book promised, because i’m left feeling like I walked out in the middle of a movie.
I was wrong.
There is a good novella somewhere in the book. Ma has a good touch for atmosphere and dialogue. She is a perceptive writer. The idea behind Shen Fever was really interesting as was the cult-like survival group Candace found herself in.
But so much of Severance seems like filler. The details of the main character’s relationship with her family were interesting and might have made a very good coming-of-age immigrant story. I kept thinking Severance was a mash up like Pride and Prejudice and Zombie, except this was a little like Joy Luck Club and Zombies.
Once I started reading about shopping for knock off handbags in Hong Kong around page 100, my mind started rebelling. There is just so much unnecessary detail.
Such a shame.
This is not a zombie story with flesh-eating undead. Instead, this post-apocalyptic novel turns out to be an exploration of attachment to the past, and the sense of emptiness when one is cut off from it. There is plenty of commentary on society and its norms and values. While there is understated satire, the humor is the sort that makes me me wince rather than chuckle - in the same way that extremely awkward social situations in some sitcoms or Woody Allen movies might. The book is also a beautifully written love letter to the New York City of 2011, as experienced by a young, professional, single woman. Be ready for lots of flashbacks to scenes of life in the city, filled with the confusion, loneliness, awkwardness and (some) happiness experienced by the protagonist. The prose can get a little artsy at times. If you are looking for the pulse-pounding pace common to the Zombie Apocalypse genre then the book will seem quite slow. There is a plague that is busily wiping out humanity. People who fall sick become mindless automatons (but not really zombies) and society has collapsed. There are few survivors and our heroine falls in with a group heading west. All is not well in the group dynamics. The main tension in the plot comes from the somewhat creepy struggle between characters rather than a struggle for survival or action sequences.
Bottom line: I liked the book but would hesitate to recommend it without caveats to someone who is a fan of ZA or PostApoc fiction. This is not a harrowing tale of survival. Be aware that the prose is a bit stylized and evokes a sort of hipster-ish young-in-The-City vibe, and that the main themes of the book have to do with commentary on society, loss, remembrance and attachment to the past. If you are down with reading something that seems to be - by deliberate intention - artistically written, and you like deep and subtle character development, then I think you will enjoy!
Style-wise, I wasn’t a fan of the lack of quotation marks to denote speech. Maybe I’m traditional but it would have been helpful in differentiating Candace’s internal and external dialogues. And perhaps, or not perhaps, it is likely that this style was implemented intentionally, maybe as some way of further confusing Candace’s perception and reality, and emphasizing the dreamscape nature of this book- given the manifestation that Shen Fever takes and the main character’s tendency to fall into a trance-like state in the face of routine. Whatever the case, I wasn’t a fan of that style.
As a lover of romance, I was interested in Candace and Jonathan’s “love story” such as it was. The “love scenes” if you can call them that are THE LEAST sexy scenes you will EVER read and that adds to the dark humor of the entire novel. I mean: “ he handled me as if separating egg whites from yolk,” just tells you all you need to know about the strangeness and awkwardness.
Overall, I think this book was neither amazing nor was it terrible. I didn’t especially enjoy it, but I don’t regret reading it either. It felt like a story that had been told before and for someone who isn’t into this genre, I’m still unconvinced. I think this would be a good addition for someone with a post-dystopian fiction collection.
Top reviews from other countries
The fevered are essentially harmless, so this isn't a zombie apocalypse horror story - it's a quiet, thoughtful novel in which the real threat comes not from the fevered but the survivors, who, in the case of the group Candace joins, predictably descend into cultish behaviours that can only end in trouble.
The post-apocalyptic storyline, however, is really only a small part of the book. Interwoven with Candace's experiences after Shen Fever strikes is the story of her relationship with her parents, their move from Fuzhou, China to Utah, and her years living in New York after graduating. In New York she abandons her ambitions to become a photographer and takes a job working in production for Spectra, a firm of publishers. Candace works in the Bible department, doing a job so routine that it sees her plagued by recurring dreams of inadequate paper stock crumpling in printing presses. Candace is oddly comforted by the routine of her job, despite the dubious ethics of sourcing suppliers in China whose staff work in appalling, often dangerous conditions, dying of diseases caused by precious stone processing so that her employer can produce the 'Gemstone Bible', aimed at American teenage girls in the Bible Belt and sold with a semi-precious charm attached.
Candace, perhaps partly because of her immigrant roots, is nagged by a slight sense of otherness, and is curiously detached from the world around her - I don't think it's an accident that her first love is photography, an activity which requires her to observe rather than participate, and yet somehow she also barely notices when the world starts to end around her. However, while she doesn't appear to enjoy her job as such, she is strangely comforted by it, as if its very meaninglessness brings a meaning to her life that's otherwise lacking. When others are leaving New York as Shen Fever takes hold, she continues to turn up to work. Eventually, she's the only employee, continuing to send emails and attempting to schedule production tasks long after the rest of her colleagues have died or fled and Spectra's Chinese suppliers have succumbed to Shen Fever themselves.
Is Candace, perfectly healthy but turning up day after day in an almost empty city to do a job that no longer really exists, much different from the fevered woman she observes in a clothing store, repeatedly folding the same items over and over again as she rots alive? And when her contract is finally over and she decides to leave New York with a group of fellow millennials, armed with "bottled water and exfoliating body wash and iPods and beers and tinted moisturiser" looted from an abandoned WalMart, will she manage to survive in a world without meaning, and avoid succumbing to the deadly Shen Fever which might - just might - be triggered by nostalgia? What might just save Candace, it seems, is her immigrant experience. Candace doesn't feel any real affection for any of the places and things she encounters on her journey across America: for her, the place that triggers those feelings of intense, unnerving nostalgia is her original home city of Fuzhou.
This is a novel of complicated ideas, simply written - but it's also often funny. Candace herself has a detached, observational wit, self-deprecating but never performatively so. It's sad too, imbued with a completely unsentimental melancholy. If you're looking for a post-apocalyptic rollercoaster ride of a novel, this isn't that book, but I loved this understated satire of consumerism, missed opportunities, modern living and the immigrant experience, and would definitely look out for more work by Ling Ma.