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…
Why read it?
8 authors picked Severance as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Objectively, Severance fits into many lists, being a masterpiece of literary fiction, as well as a speculative, near-future puzzle, as well as an intimate and moving portrait of survival both physical and metaphorical.
But it’s also an office novel, one that through sheer coincidence depicted the surrealism of white collar office work while a deadly pandemic enacts devastating change across the planet at exactly the same time it was happening in reality. The book is one of my favorites of all time. Every read offers something different.
A child of immigrants 20-something professional selling bibles, Severance is about Cadence Chen’s story of completing her early career job during a pandemic before setting off into the dystopian horror of society’s collapse.
Severance is a satire everyone needs to read after our own worldwide pandemic.
It’s funny: the prologue starts the band of survivors that Candence joins learning to start campfires in the wilderness from youtube and how to shoot. It parodies our materialistic culture that treats occupations like destinies and shares the feeling of estrangement many of us children of immigrants feel too.
It’s a maturation story with…
In Severance, Ma creates a creepy, disturbing world after a fungus has turned most humans into zombified, non-functioning blobs, some of whom need to be exterminated as an act of mercy.
But the drama does not revolve around the zombies; instead, it revolves around the interpersonal stress felt by a small group of non-zombies who have decided to travel together. In this world, as in the pre-zombie world, humans are petty, insecure, delusional, and narcissistic.
Ma also does an amazing job showing us the pre-zombie world at the moments that it transitions into this new reality. Reading it, I…
What stood out to me about Severance, aside from the witty-without-trying-to-be writing, was the dynamic between the characters.
In the group of nine or so people still healthy after a devasting virus, one man appoints himself as the leader, and the others allow him to do so, following him on a questionable journey. It spurred me to ponder why people award others status.
Why do people follow others so faithfully, even when they don’t deserve respect? Also, the alternating chapters of pre- and post-disaster expose the many things we stress about in our daily lives that just don’t matter.…
Sometimes second chances come with a steep price, which, in Candace Chen’s case, means the apocalyptic annihilation of the world’s population. I wouldn’t call this book a pick-me-up, though it is funny, but it is an incredibly moving story about what it means to move on. Ling Ma moves her characters between time, writing about Candace’s parent's decision to leave behind China and her own decision to stay in New York as the deadly fever takes hold. Some of the most beautiful writing is about New York City, a place I dearly love. “New York is possibly the only…
As a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I’ve read a great many zombie novels over the years, but I can safely say that none stood out to me the way Severance by Ling Ma did. As Shen Fever overruns the world, turning people into zombies stuck in repetitive tasks from their human lives, Candace Chen reluctantly leaves her office job to search for safety among a group of survivors. Most zombie books ask what one would do when faced with zombies. Written in a literary style and exploring a range of topics including consumerism and the immigrant experience, this book…
When I first read the synopsis for Severance, the concept seemed similar to my book, Past This Point and I got a little nervous since it was released several months before mine. A self-sequestered NYC woman, Candace, who’s dealing with the grief of her parent's recent passing, ends up one of the only survivors of a deadly virus. Sounds like my main character. So, of course, I had to read it. But I shouldn’t have worried because the rest of the novel is very different. Candace goes on to create a blog called NY Ghost where she photographs the abandoned…
Severance is the eeriest book of the bunch, and it uses the conceit of the pandemic to examine capitalism and its ills—among them, enforced solitude and chronic loneliness. In 2020, we all learned something about the loneliness of quarantine, and I found this novel to be a wise companion.
Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like Severance.
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- The best post-apocalyptic novels by female authors
- The best books about second chances, from an author who’s on her fifth chance (and teetering on the sixth)
- The best disaster books where society fails suddenly