Severance: Book summary and reviews of Severance by Ling Ma

Severance

A Novel

by Ling Ma

Severance by Ling Ma X
Severance by Ling Ma
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2018
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction
An Elle Best Book of 2018
A Marie Claire Best Book of 2018
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 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 Refinery29 Best New Book of August 2018
A Greenlight Bookstore Pick in Brooklyn Paper

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"Re-invents the office satire and delivers a hilariously searing critique of who we are and how we survive in a modern world. Ma's caustic humor and incredibly smart commentary on late capitalism compares our adherence to routine and groupthink to a terminal infection. Her precise language, original voice, and use of all-too-relatable details inform the debut's deadpan depiction of a society teetering on the edge." - Lauren Sarazen, Shondaland

"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. It also features one of the most hauntingly plausible end-of-the-world scenarios I've encountered in recent fiction, one which folds in enough hints of the real to be particularly unsettling ... A monumentally unnerving novel." - 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 ... it's all done with a pleasingly light touch, despite the story being heavy with death and addressing the pressing issues of our times." - 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

"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

"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

"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

"A satiric vision that takes in late capitalism, the immigrant experience, and the anomie of early adulthood." - Library of America

"A radically understated debut novel ... searingly underplayed... . There's a power to the restraint, and an elegance to the understatement: It grinds you down slowly, the way riding the New York subway does, so that you've barely noticed that you're in the middle of something terrible before you're used to it. It's apocalypse by commute. And in that banality, there is enormous force." ?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

"An artfully drawn satire, the kind with humor so dry you almost wonder if it's there." - Ceridwen Christensen, Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

"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

The information about Severance shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Ling Ma

Ling Ma was born in Sanming, China, and grew up in Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas. She attended the University of Chicago and received an MFA from Cornell University. Prior to graduate school she worked as a journalist and an editor. Her writing has appeared in Granta, VICE, Playboy, Chicago Reader, Ninth Letter, and other publications. A chapter of Severance received the 2015 Graywolf SLS Prize. She lives in Chicago.

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