Severance: A Novel (Hardcover)

Staff Pick Logo
Severance: A Novel Cover Image
By Ling Ma
$26.00
Usually Ships in 1-5 Days

Staff Reviews


A smart and scarily plausible apocalyptic novel, Severance takes a sharp, satirical look at capitalism and nostalgia, with plenty of wit and heart to cushion its blunt edges.  Candace is a protagonist that any millennial will find relatable, dissatisfied with her job but unable to escape its banalities even as a pandemic begins to empty New York City.  Both brutal and low-key in turn, this is an impressive debut novel that I could not get enough of.

— Kelly

September 2018 Indie Next List


“Candace Chen is a first-generation Chinese millennial immigrant who tries to make a life in New York City by succumbing to the role of the office drone who helps create cheap bibles. But when Shen Fever—a plague that causes its victims to perform a rote task until death—hits, only a few survive, including Candace. She soon finds herself in a cult-like band of other survivors heading to the Midwest while also trying to come to terms with her past and the unknowns of her future. With dark humor, sharp intelligence, and compassion, Ling Ma has written a well-constructed, biting satire of capitalism and a moving glimpse into the roles of memory, place, and identity in a life.”
— Kelsey Westenberg, The Dial Bookshop, Chicago, IL

Description


Maybe it’s the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma’s offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance.

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 cease operations. The subways screech 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.

About the Author


Ling Ma received her MFA from Cornell University. Prior to graduate school she worked as a journalist and editor. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Vice, Playboy, Chicago Reader, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. A chapter of Severance received the 2015 Graywolf SLS Prize. She lives in Chicago.

Praise For…


Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction
An Elle Best Book of 2018
A Marie Claire Best Book of 2018
A Book of the Month Club Selection for December 2018
Shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award
New York Magazine Approval Matrix, "Highbrow Brilliant"
An Indie Next Great Reads Selection
A Southern Living Best New Book of Summer 2018
A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2018
An Alma Favorite Book for Fall
A Buzzfeed Summer Reading Pick
A Nylon Best Book of Summer 2018
A Vulture Best Book of the Summer
A Chicago Magazine Summer Reading Pick
A Library Journal Summer Fall Best Debut Novel
An April Magazine Most Anticipated Book of 2018
A BookBub Laugh-Out-Loud Book of 2018
A Library Journal Debut With Credentials
A Bookish Summer Must-Read Fiction
A Refinery29 Best New Book of August 2018
A Greenlight Bookstore Pick in Brooklyn Paper

Severance is the best work of fiction I’ve read yet about the millennial condition—the alienation and cruelty that comes with being a functional person under advanced global capitalism, and the compromised pleasures and irreducibly personal meaning to be found in claiming some stability in a terrible world. I love how, in this novel, doom is inevitable, and yet it comes so slowly you might not even notice it. Ling Ma has written one of my favorite novels of the year.” —Jia Tolentino, New Yorker staff writer

“A satirical spin on the end times—kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers.” – Estelle Tang, Elle

"[A] standout debut. Satiric and playful—as well as scary . . . Ling Ma is an assured and inventive storyteller [and her novel] reflects on the nature of human identity and how much the repetitive tasks we perform come to define who we are. . . . A sardonic wake-up call." —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, National Public Radio

“Ma’s writing about the jargon of globalized capitalism has a mix of humor and pathos that reminded me a little of Infinite Jest and a little of George Saunders.” —Emily Witt, The New Yorker

Severance is the most gorgeously written novel I’ve read all year; when I finished it, I immediately picked it up and read it all over again.” —Jane Hu, The New Republic

"How do you fit a zombie novel inside an immigrant story inside a coming-of-age tale? Ling Ma . . . accomplished this feat in her gripping and original turducken of a novel . . . Fascinating." —Trine Tsouderos, The Chicago Tribune

“Tense and elegant, Ma’s writing here 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.” —Larissa Pham, The Nation

"Re-invents the office satire and delivers a hilariously searing critique of who we are and how we survive in a modern world. Ma’s caustic humor and incredibly smart commentary on late capitalism compares our adherence to routine and groupthink to a terminal infection. Her precise language, original voice, and use of all-too-relatable details inform the debut’s deadpan depiction of a society teetering on the edge." Lauren Sarazen, Shondaland

“Ling Ma’s Severance . . . sneaks up on you from all sides: it’s an affecting portrayal of loss, a precise fictional evocation of group dynamics, and a sharp character study of its protagonist, Candace Chen. It also features one of the most hauntingly plausible end-of-the-world scenarios I’ve encountered in recent fiction, one which folds in enough hints of the real to be particularly unsettling . . . A monumentally unnerving novel.” —Tobias Carroll, Tor.com

"Ling Ma delivers a fascinating coming-of-age novel, one full of millennial culture, post-apocalyptic adventures, and, perhaps most exciting of all, a zombie-like populace . . . Severance wonderfully demonstrates how the lifestyles we lead now can have a great impact on our future . . . it’s all done with a pleasingly light touch, despite the story being heavy with death and addressing the pressing issues of our times.” —M. M. Silva, Zyzzyva

"Shocking and ferocious . . . a fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination. . . a wicked satire of consumerism and work culture . . . It's a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring: This is the way the world ends, Ma seems to be saying, not with a bang but a memo." Michael Schaub, NPR.org

"A suspenseful adventure that doubles as a sly critique of late capitalism." Boris Kachka, Vulture, “8 New Books You Should Read This Summer”

"Funny, frightening, and touching.... Ling Ma manages the impressive trick of delivering a bildungsroman, a survival tale, and satire of late capitalist millennial angst in one book, and Severance announces its author as a supremely talented writer to watch." The Millions

"If satirist Gary Shteyngart wrote his version of 2015 end-of-world breakout Station Eleven, it would be this compulsively readable book." —Mind Body Green

“A deeply unsettling millennial joyride toward the end of days.” —Crime Time Podcast

“Ling Ma’s debut novel tackles countless themes—immigration, work culture, family, capitalism, and the confusing aimlessness of your early 20s—with a dry wit that keeps the horrific digestible, the repetitive laughable, and the pages turning.” —Marie Claire

"Astounding . . . Ma’s engrossing, masterfully written debut transforms the mundane into a landscape of tricky memory, where questions of late-stage capitalism, immigration, displacement and motherhood converge in such a sly build-up as to render the reader completely stunned." —BookPage

"A brilliantly unsettling dystopian novel following a young woman who somehow escapes a fever epidemic and joins a cult-like group of fellow survivors." —Bust

"Ma's writing is compelling and cogent, perfectly satirizing a world that often feels beyond parody." Nylon

"Ma's language does so much in this book, and its precision, its purposeful specificity, implicates an entire generation. But what is most remarkable is the gentleness with which Ma describes those working within the capital-S System. What does it mean if a person finds true comfort working as a 'cog' in a system they disagree with? Is that comfort any less real?" Buzzfeed

"An apocalypse novel that could be happening right now. It’s funny except when it’s horrifying; it’s horrifying except when it’s oddly comforting. That ambivalent tonal mixture is just one piece of what makes Ma’s writing so unique and captivating. " —Jonathan Woollen, Politics and Prose Bookstore

"What Ma accomplishes with her fever-stricken world is what sets Severance apart. Rather than take the end of days as a chance for the usual pontifications on societal collapse—most seemingly ignorant that we built society from nothing the first time, and we would certainly do it again—Ma uses the disaster trope for interrogation on a scale small enough to lacerate.” —B. David Zarley, Paste

“A satiric vision that takes in late capitalism, the immigrant experience, and the anomie of early adulthood." —Library of America

"Severance meets and exceeds the promise of [its] exciting description. In many ways, Severance is a novel of ideas—it artfully blends/bends genre, it boldly indicts global capitalism, consumerism, and materialism—but every one of its intellectual aims is deeply grounded in the richly felt experiences of the narrator. As a reader, this novel made me dizzy with fear for our world, today, and at the same time, it made me worry about the well-being of the compelling Candace Chen and her companions. And it made me laugh. It made me laugh a whole lot." —Joseph Scapellato, Electric Lit

"For readers who love their literary fiction with a dash of apocalypse, this one's for you." Bookish

"Severance shares as much with Then We Came To The End, Joshua Ferris’ meditation on the failure of an advertising agency, as it does with The Walking Dead; Ma plays with voice, alternating between the first-person singular and plural to show how easily an individual comes to identify as part of a collective and how hard it is to have that group fall apart. But, like 28 Days Later, it uses the end of the world to examine what is really important . . . If zombie stories are about the terrible power of the mob, Severance asks what kind of life is left to anyone who tries to stand against it." —Samantha Nelson, A.V. Club

"Takes the milieu of the film Frances Ha and mixes in a subdued zombie apocalypse. . . A clever and funny novel that depicts modern urban ennui and a speculative post-apocalyptic world equally well, while using its central contagion as a metaphor to critique late capitalism, globalization, and nostalgia." —Matt Stowe, Brooklyn Paper
“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.” —Kaitlin Philips, BookForum


"[An] entertaining, thought-provoking debut novel . . . It’s not the first time somebody illuminated the similarities between out consumer-driven society and zombie-like behavior (hi Mr. Romero!), but it’s a powerfully-delivered metaphor all the same . . . expect a sharply-written wake-up call that will likely be enjoyed by many who will miss the larger point: put down the phone, put away the credit cards, and try to make connections with people instead of brands and objects." —Blu Gilliand, Cemetery Dance

"Severance is its own entity: an end of the world novel with two or three other novels bursting at the seams to break out. . . A dizzying, monumental read. It’s funny, it’s sad—and sometimes both at the same time . . . Severance is the nearly perfect cautionary tale of consumer culture and society’s fascination with the not so distant past . . . It’s also just a really fun read with literary panache. For either reason, this is a novel you should sit down and spend some time with. You won’t regret it, even if you’ve already read Station Eleven and have had it up to here with all of the copycats. It’s that good. Really." —Zachary Houle, Medium

“Listen, are we just suggesting Severance to everyone, because everyone in the office read and loved it? Yes, sure. But also, post-apocalyptic novels are perfect crucibles for imagining what happens when the rules we operate under break down.” —Electric Lit

"Ling Ma's novel Severance is an astute combination of workplace novel and apocalyptic tale. Smart and filled with humanity, this debut is one of the year's best books." —Large-Hearted Boy

“This depiction of the Midwest feels unexpectedly of our time, at a moment when coastal nostalgia for the heartland has fixated as much on frontier sentimentalism (prairie dresses, artisanal foods) as it has dead mall videos and ruin porn.” —Meghan O’Gieblyn, Lit Hub


"A radically understated debut novel . . . searingly underplayed. . . . There's a power to the restraint, and an elegance to the understatement: It grinds you down slowly, the way riding the New York subway does, so that you've barely noticed that you're in the middle of something terrible before you're used to it. It's apocalypse by commute. And in that banality, there is enormous force." —Constance Grady, Vox

"This quirky satire of office culture . . . imagines what would happen to a Chinese American workaholic if Manhattan were hit by a sudden apocalypse." Chicago Magazine

“An artfully drawn satire, the kind with humor so dry you almost wonder if it’s there.” —Ceridwen Christensen, Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

"Blends two distinct subgenres into a wholly original narrative." Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"A biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after . . . [Ma] knows her craft, and it shows. [Her protagonist] is a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. . . . Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written." —Kirkus, starred review

"Embracing the genre but somehow transcending it, Ma creates a truly engrossing and believable anti-utopian world. Ma's extraordinary debut marks a notable creative jump by playing on the apocalyptic fears many people share today." Booklist, starred review

"In this shrewd postapocalpytic debut, Ma imagines the end times in the world of late capitalism, marked by comforting, debilitating effects of nostalgia on its characters . . . The novel's strength lies in Ma's accomplished handling of the walking dead conceit to reflect on what constitutes the good life. This is a clever and dextrous debut." Publishers Weekly

"A smart, searing exposé on the perils of consumerism, Google overload, and millennial malaise . . . an already established audience will be eager to discover this work." Library Journal

"For those of us who have felt trapped in jobs we hate, the walking dead in Ling Ma’s new dystopian novel Severance may seem all too familiar . . . Severance is a call to action against letting the comforts of rituals stop you from going after what you want — whether that’s leaving a toxic job or escaping the apocalypse." —Monica Torres, Ladders

“In a breathtaking mash-up of now and just a hair beyond now, Ling Ma’s apocalypse glistens with terror, humor, anger, and humanity. I promise, you will not be able to stop reading this ingeniously constructed and electrifyingly harrowing book.” —Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark

“As a look into where our overconsumption might lead us, Ling Ma’s Severance rings terrifyingly true. More than that, it’s a moving meditation on home, belonging, and life itself—all rendered in cool yet affecting prose that’s too good not to keep reading.” —Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin

“My autocorrect keeps putting ‘King’ Ma instead of Ling Ma, but maybe that’s on the mark: she totally rules. Severance is like nothing else around: a witty workplace novel and a terrifying plague yarn, an immigrant story and a sort of homecoming, full of Chinese whispers and New York ghosts.” —Ed Park, author of Personal Days

“Ling Ma has given us a terrifyingly plausible vision of our collective future, one in which our comforts have become pathology and our habits death—and, in her protagonist, a hero who doesn’t know if she should be seeking salvation or oblivion. And yet, somehow, Severance could easily be the funniest book of the year. It’s a brilliant, deadpan novel of survival, in this world and in the precarious world to come.” —J. Robert Lennon, author of Broken River



Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374261597
ISBN-10: 0374261598
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: August 14th, 2018
Pages: 304
Language: English