b2s pick: Severance

severance coverBOOK 2 SCREEN PICK

Severance by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018)

Summary: 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. 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.


It’s is partly a workplace novel. The protagonist works as a project coordinator in charge of Bible-making at a publishing supply chain firm. Then an epidemic of fatal fungal spores pops up in Shenzhen and takes over the world, killing people in a method that is hauntingly metaphoric (naturally) but also starkly creepy in a lizard brain genre sense. 

Ling Ma’s desolate world is not the typical setting of humanity’s literary post-apocalyptic fall from grace. A blend of one of my favourite books Station Eleven in this quirky apocalyptic disaster novel with a darkly comic coming of age story — all while making a powerful commentary on the state of consumer culture in our world. It’s the timeless narrative of a young person adrift in the city, combined with the more timely dystopian nihilistic survivalist tale.

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