Thomas's Reviews > Severance

Severance by Ling  Ma
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2018505
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it was amazing
bookshelves: own-physical, adult-fiction, five-stars, science-fiction

4.5 stars

This book stopped me right in my tracks - literally. I read it in the span of five hours; I could not put it down. In Severance, Ling Ma shares the story of Candace Chen, a self-described millennial worker drone who spends much of her life sequestered in a Manhattan office tower. With both of her parents recently deceased and no other family or close friends, she has little else to do, aside from going to work and watching movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend. Candace thus feels little emotion when the Shen Fever hits, a plague that renders people into non-violent zombie versions of themselves, doomed to repeat the same rote tasks over and over until they become fully unconscious. The story flashes between Candace's life before the Shen Fever hits, as well as after, when she travels with a group of survivors led by a power-hungry, authoritarian man named Bob.

Ling Ma creates an excellent atmosphere in Severance. While reading, I felt claustrophobic, trapped, and hooked into the story all at the same time - similar to how a lot of millennials feel within late-stage capitalism. The flashbacks and flashforwards worked well here, as they served to deepen Candace's character and backstory while also propelling the narrative forward. Within this tight, gripping plot, Ma inserts commentary about the deadening, devastating effects of capitalism that strikes a skillful balance between serious and satirical. Every element of this story - the zombie apocalypse, Candace's coming-of-age, the dive into corporate life - all came together in a dark, entrancing, and unputdownable way.

I have to say my heart broke when Ma wrote about Candace's immigrant parents and how their assimilation to the United States involved the absorption of capitalism. The way she wrote about Candace's father's relationship with work and her mother's relationship with material goods felt so true to my own immigrant family's experience in this country. Taking this aspect of the novel together with a reveal about Candace that happens pretty early in the story, I appreciated how Ma weaves in understated yet powerful insights about race, gender, and exploitation of foreign labor throughout the book.

A quirky, cynical, yet important read that has made me think a lot about what matters most in my life (hint: it's leaning toward my close friends and mentees/students, not my work). The style of this book reminded me of Weike Wang's Chemistry and Gabe Habash's Stephen Florida , with some Station Eleven vibes too. Highly recommended to those critical of society's emphasis on work who also want a unique, well-written story.
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Reading Progress

July 17, 2018 – Shelved
September 8, 2018 – Started Reading
September 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Sandra (new)

Sandra This sounds like a great read. Putting it on my to-read list! Thanks for the fantastic and detailed review!


message 2: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth I loved Station Eleven!


Thomas Sandra wrote: "This sounds like a great read. Putting it on my to-read list! Thanks for the fantastic and detailed review!"

Aw, thanks Sandra, that means a lot from you. Hope you enjoy it if/when you read it. :)

Elizabeth wrote: "I loved Station Eleven!"

Yay! Hope you love this one too.


Michael Excellent review, Thomas! Your thoughts are eloquent and have inspired me to pick up a copy of this.


message 5: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha I have scrolled past this book quite a few times but your review just made me add it to my TBR!


message 6: by Sherron (new)

Sherron Special thanks for the last paragraph where you give pointers to similar books! I agree with you about a Station Eleven vibe, and I added Chemistry to my TBR list.


Thomas Michael wrote: "Excellent review, Thomas! Your thoughts are eloquent and have inspired me to pick up a copy of this."

Yay Michael, I really appreciated your review of this and am grateful for how you've trailblazed your way onto Goodreads and the blogosphere. :)

Samantha wrote: "I have scrolled past this book quite a few times but your review just made me add it to my TBR!"

Aw yay glad to hear that Samantha! Hope you enjoy it if/when you get to it!

Sherron wrote: "Special thanks for the last paragraph where you give pointers to similar books! I agree with you about a Station Eleven vibe, and I added Chemistry to my TBR list."

Yes of course Sheeron, glad you also saw similarities with Station Eleven and hope you enjoy Chemistry! Both are such fabulous books. :)


Valerie Zhang Hi Thomas, I just wanted to say that I read Severance today in a fever dream because of the review you wrote. (A lot of my to-reads have been influenced by your reviews haha.) Thanks so much for the review; I'd been feeling distant from my own writing for a while, but Severance inspired me to go back to it -- this time weirder, more Asian, more spectacular.


Thomas Omg Valerie, so happy to hear that you read Severance and enjoyed it and I'm honored that you sometimes base your to-reads on my reviews (lol hopefully my taste is somewhat decent)! I'm glad it's been inspired you to return t your writing in ways that sound authentic and bold. I hope to read it some day. :)


Valerie Zhang Thomas wrote: "Omg Valerie, so happy to hear that you read Severance and enjoyed it and I'm honored that you sometimes base your to-reads on my reviews (lol hopefully my taste is somewhat decent)! I'm glad it's b..."

Hahaha I'll hold you to it! :)


Janet Martin Gosh--we can take such different views from the same book. I didn't see it as an apotheosis against capitalism, which had nothing to do with the disaster of an incurable disease, but a description of the issues of integration into a new society


Dongjing Zhang I was definitely thinking of Chemistry while reading this. The detached/distant female narrator made the story feel extra lonely, which I thought Ling Ma and Weike Wang portrayed wonderfully.

Candace's history is so close to mine. My family also left after 1989 for the same reason. Even though there was so much of her immigrant story, I thought it was balanced really well between being a millennial and a first gen immigrant.

Also I thought i was going to die reading the last 5%. It was so exciting I could barely breath. I need Ling Ma and Weike Wang to write 300 more books.


Sarah Nelson This book literally blew me away. I don’t often come across books that make me feel some sort of way. But this one I felt uncomfortably to my core.


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