Ling Ma | August 2018 | 291 pp
Holy crap this book was crazy to read in 2020! I had not even heard of Ling Ma’s Severance until, probably due to our present day dystopia, the book experienced a resurgence of sorts in booky spaces on booktube and IG. It made its way to my feed, I found the audio book available in Libby, thus leading to a glorious Labor Day 2020 weekend of non-stop listening while completing some DIY projects around the house.
This turned out to be a great read! A spooky, funny, mysterious, horrific, modern dystopian tale of a young, millennial woman, living in modern day New York just as a pandemic hits. Candace Chen lives your basic millennial existence in NY: average job where her performance is pretty average, cramped apartment, non-committal boyfriend. As word of a strange, highly contagious virus spreads into the city, her peers start talking about fleeing. At first its just vague warnings, assurances everything will be ok, but, you know…where these N95 masks and wash your hands more frequently. Sound familiar? 🙄 Businesses start shutting down and/or creating contingency plans for the worst. Candace, detached and absorbed by her own challenges and routines, seems completely oblivious to what is happening around her. There are rumors of illness but, they seem distant to her. Even before the pandemic hits, the non-committal boyfriend had already planned to leave the city, he just failed to ask Candace to come with. I think she was hurt by this and it may be part of the reason she sticks her head in the sand in regards to the pandemic.
Even as the virus starts to hit her office, she isn’t panicked because, well, its not her…its someone else. 🤷🏾♀️ Eventually, Candace receives a retention offer to remain at work over the next several months in order to collect a large pay out at the end. We’re not sure if its because shes excellent or the only one left. I think more the later. Friends beg her to leave with them, but, she jumps at the chance to work because, basically, she wants the money. She continues her routine of coming to work and going home everyday, until she finds herself alone. Boyfriend has gone, no one is in the huge skyscraper building with her, no one in the city. Creepy AF! After a close encounter with a diseased person, Candace is forced to leave and falls in with a group on their way to a place called ‘The Facility’. Their leader says the place is safe and they’ll be ok there. Along the way, we learn that Bob, the leader, is an IT professional turned wacko, and unceremoniously kills people he thinks are infected. BTW, the infection happens when you get trapped by your routine. If you visit a place or process that is familiar, something happens and you will just get stuck doing that one thing: trying on clothes in a mirror, brushing your hair, walking from your porch to your kitchen. Weird AF. Candace wants to escape Bob and his group but, will she be able to survive them and the virus until she has a chance?
I had soooo many emotions reading this!! First of all,PANDEMIC!! 🤦🏾♀️ Honey, when they started handing out masks in the office, I felt my stomach lurch! Its like the scenes in the horror flick when you start yelling at the screen: “No, don’t go that way, RUN!!!” And the psychological pit of finding out you get diseased by getting trapped in your routine? Im not even prepared to go there. Lets just say, a lot of us would be in deep shit. Note: Do Different Shit!
Cons: I found Candace equally maddening and interesting. Her cluelessness about her relationship and inability to articulate her feelings seemed ridiculously immature for her age. Her obliviousness to the world falling down around her validated her complete self absorption. Im glad a stuck with her though. Her journey does take her to a space where she needs to grow up and she does. Eventually taking control of her fear and ultimately her destiny.
Pro: As annoying as the lead character could be, I enjoyed reading her story. I thought the dialogue between her and the other characters sounded realistic and it always pushed the story forward, nothing was wasted.
The ending is a bit hotly debated online. I want talk about here but, read it and let me your thoughts! Goodbook #44
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 halt operations. The subways squeak 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.