Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies cease operations. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.
Joining a pack of survivors led by a charismatic IT guy named Bob—'He was Goth when he felt like it,' Ma writes, with the kind of sharp, offhand characterization that makes Severance a pleasure to read—Candace realizes that her survival may be more difficult with others than apart from them ... movement between past and present...makes the novel work: As Candace’s future becomes increasingly uncertain, and her path more dangerous, we come to realize what she’s already lost—long before the pandemic hit. This feat of pacing and plot is also what makes Severance stand out among recent works of millennial fiction: The whole novel is, in a way, about how we are but an accretion of everything that’s ever happened to us ... Tense and elegant, Ma’s writing...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.
Ling Ma's shocking and ferocious novel, Severance, is a play on the 'Why I left New York' theme, but it's one you'll actually want to read ... a fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination ... Severance goes back and forth in time, contrasting Candace's tedious office job with her travels across post-apocalyptic America. It's a technique Ma uses to great effect — it's jarring in a great way, making the horror of her new circumstances all the more intense ... while Severance works beautifully as a horror novel, there's much more to it than that. It's a wicked satire of consumerism and work culture ... Severance is the kind of satire that induces winces rather than laughs, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining ... [a] a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take.
Kmart realism has here taken on a fanatical glare, as if all the flickering bulbs in the supermarket aisle have been upgraded with halogen lighting ... Ma is satiric about the workplace, in a way that’s less snobbish than Nell Zink but just as funny and imaginative ... All the best metaphors in the book are cleverly crafted harbingers ... Her dexterity in joking about capitalism rivals the skill of the great Richard Powers, who once imagined a company selling a product to cure a disease it created ... There’s something so unimaginative and depressing and right about this book ending in a mall.