Severance: A Novel (Hardcover)
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.
About the Author
Ling Ma received her MFA from Cornell University. Prior to graduate school she worked as a journalist and editor. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Vice, Playboy, Chicago Reader, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. A chapter of Severance received the 2015 Graywolf SLS Prize. She lives in Chicago.
An Elle Best Book to Read This Summer
A Southern Living Best New Book of Summer 2018
A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2018
A Buzzfeed Summer Reading Pick
A Nylon Best Book of Summer 2018
A Vulture Best Book of the Summer
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 Bookish Summer Must-Read Fiction
“A satirical spin on the end times—kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers.” – Estelle Tang, Elle
“A counter-history . . . 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; it produced a sense of estrangement from my cosmetics, my clothes, and my iPhone.” — Emily Witt, The New Yorker
"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
"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
"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. It’s just an office novel, after all, with some worker-bee politics and consideration of the commute, the lunch break, the after-work cocktails. But Severance demands to be wondered at, only to flip around the gaze and stare back at you." - BookPage
"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
"Ma's writing is compelling and cogent, perfectly satirizing a world that often feels beyond parody." —Nylon
"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
"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
"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
"For readers who love their literary fiction with a dash of apocalypse, this one's for you." —Bookish
"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
“In a breathtaking mash-up of now and just a hair beyond now, Ling Ma’s apocalypse glistens with terror, humor, anger, and humanity. I promise, you will not be able to stop reading this ingeniously constructed and electrifyingly harrowing book.”
—Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark
“As a look into where our overconsumption might lead us, Ling Ma’s Severance rings terrifyingly true. More than that, it’s a moving meditation on home, belonging, and life itself—all rendered in cool yet affecting prose that’s too good not to keep reading.”
—Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
“My autocorrect keeps putting ‘King’ Ma instead of Ling Ma, but maybe that’s on the mark: she totally rules. Severance is like nothing else around: a witty workplace novel and a terrifying plague yarn, an immigrant story and a sort of homecoming, full of Chinese whispers and New York ghosts.”
—Ed Park, author of Personal Days
“Ling Ma has given us a terrifyingly plausible vision of our collective future, one in which our comforts have become pathology and our habits death—and, in her protagonist, a hero who doesn’t know if she should be seeking salvation or oblivion. And yet, somehow, Severance could easily be the funniest book of the year. It’s a brilliant, deadpan novel of survival, in this world and in the precarious world to come.”
—J. Robert Lennon, author of Broken River