“A day off meant we could do things we’d always meant to do. Like go to the Botanical Garden, the Frick Collection, or something. Read some fiction. Leisure, the problem with the modern condition was the dearth of leisure. And finally, it took a force of nature to interrupt our routines. We just wanted to hit the reset button. We just wanted to feel flush with time to do things of no quantifiable value, our hopeful side pursuits like writing or drawing or something, something other than what we did for money. Like learn to be a better photographer. And even if we didn’t get around to it on that day, our free day, maybe it was enough just to feel the possibility that we could if we wanted to, which is another way of saying that we wanted to feel young, though many of us were that if nothing else,” (Ma 175).
With a global pandemic on our hands Severance has certainly started making the rounds of many quarantined readers book shelves (well, virtually anyways). Severance follows Candace Chen before, during, and after the end of the world. Before the world ends she is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who are assimilating into Chinese culture as Candace works at an office where she is in charge of Bible production, a job she isn’t happy working. But then a strange virus known as Shen Fever comes to North America from China and, though seemingly harmless at first, quickly changes the world. After the apocalypse has hit Candace finds a group of six survivors heading for a Facility where they will be safe, but Candace has a secret about her health and it isn’t one she wants to share, forcing Candace to decide if she should stay with her rescuers or try to find a way on her own in this new, empty world.
Severance is a novel that deals with a lot of topics and themes but in a clean and concise way that doesn’t feel clunky to the story as a whole. Ma weaves Candace’s story as the child of Chinese immigrants, as a working millennial, and a survivor after a deadly virus that kept each story line interesting and the switch between past and present even more enticing. One thing I always wonder with apocalypse narratives is how they are so Americanized, like has the world really ended if we aren’t focusing on New York? Candace’s story is set in New York but I thought it was interesting that Candace showed concerned for her distance family in China and wondering what was happening there. While we don’t get any answers, it’s nice to read an apocalypse narrative that shows some concern for the rest of the world.
Ma’s story feels incredibly prophetic in many ways, though what stuck out most to me was a section of how face masks were becoming fashion statements and branded by companies during the virus (something which I have strong feelings about).
The themes of loneliness and routine were also incredibly powerful. I love a good book about loneliness and Ma did so making Chen an interesting though not necessarily a sympathetic character. I think she can be relatable in many ways though maybe not in the best ways of ourselves, more in the things we should be careful to avoid.
Severance is a novel that successfully tackles a lot of topics and even manages to get a few laughs from the reader. I’m happy that I found out about this book and was able to read it, though I wish it wasn’t because of a global pandemic.
Publication: August 14th 2018
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopia
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
“Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she 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. HSoon 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?”