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A Novel

eBook - 2018
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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.

"A stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring." Michael Schaub,

"A satirical spin on the end times— kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers." Estelle Tang, Elle

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY: NPR * The New Yorker ("Books We Loved") * Elle * Marie Claire * Amazon Editors * The Paris Review (Staff Favorites) * Refinery29 * Bustle * Buzzfeed * BookPage * Bookish * Mental Floss * Chicago Review of Books * HuffPost * Electric Literature * A.V. Club * Jezebel * Vulture * Literary Hub * Flavorwire

Winner of the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award * Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction * Winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award * Finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel * A New York Times Notable Book of 2018 * An Indie Next Selection

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.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


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Sep 26, 2020

I think about this book at least once a week. And I tell someone to read it even more frequently. I cannot recommend this book enough. There is nothing more powerful than the desire to survive. Amazed at how timely this story is.

Lovestoread5 Sep 02, 2020

Now this is a very compelling story! The parallels between our current Pandemic of COVID-19 to this book which was published a few years before our outbreak, is remarkable! I have to admit, it stayed with me long after I had finished reading the story. Highly recommend.

Nicr Aug 01, 2020

Prescient pandemic fiction with a satirical edge.

Jul 11, 2020

Severance by Ling Ma, 2018 is a dystopian novel about a fungal infection that leads to a fever and most certain death. Boris Kochka in his review in the New York Vulture he writes: “There’s a lot to unpack and even more to savor in Severance, Ling Ma’s debut novel, which is greater than the sum of its many parts: apocalypse fiction, office satire, immigrant story, millennial bildungsroman , and love letter to a dying New York.” I totally agree with Boris. Note: I didn’t know the meaning of ‘bildungsroman’ so here it is, in case someone else doesn’t know: a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education’.
I liked the book. It was hard to put done. In between readings and now that I finished it I find myself thinking the about the main character, many of the situations and the similarities and differences with what we are going through right now with COVID-19.
I recommend it.

Nov 13, 2019

This novel is about many things - addiction to routine, immigration, consumerism, exploitation of Asian labour, dead end technology … but most of all it is a warning that the Western way of life is unsustainable. Recommended.

Aug 11, 2019

Very well written, fun to read and one of my favorite books this year. I would definitely check out this author's other works. Good job.

Aug 03, 2019



A well written thriller with unexpected results!



Tigard_AnnmarieA Jun 13, 2019

A wonderful, layered birthday cake of a novel: a dystopian read with zombies (not the hungry kind), an poignant immigrant story, and a thought-provoking satire about our capitalist consumption.

May 23, 2019

The novel as onion: first layer is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic road trip, peel back a layer and you have a millennial coming-of-age story, then an in-depth character study, an anti-capitalism treatise, a social satire, an immigrant tale, and finally a symbol-ridden fable - with Scheherazade showing up to boot! All this in 291 pages.
Shen Fever is infecting the world and Candace Chen - a middle-management drone at a book production company (she's in charge of Bible production not incidentally) - remains in NYC long past safety and reason would dictate. The book is deliberately-paced, with switching time frames, from stories from Candace's pre-fever past to her sojourn as the last remaining inhabitant of New York to her present as one of a small group of survivors under the rule of a power-hungry, fanatically religious, controlling leader.
There is not a meaningless sentence in this intelligent, dark, and sly novel. It's insightful about gender, race, labor exploitation, the danger of nostalgia, and the need to balance understanding the past with embracing change and agency.
Can't wait to see what this author does next.

Mar 31, 2019

Dystopian lit: so hot right now. Debut novel that joins the crowded field of "literary" dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature. I'm sure it says something about the zeitgeist that the genre is so popular right now. It's a more nuanced, low-key, and character-driven take on the scenario, with occasional echoes of the show "The Last Man on Earth." Also check out "Station Eleven," "Zone One," "On Such a Full Sea," and "The Power."

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