Shen Fever has kickstarted an apocalypse where everyone becomes a task-oriented zombie doomed to retold the same shirt over and over again until they rot. Candace, a Chinese-American workaholic, reflects on her life tries to stake her claim in the developing new world.
Candace is funny. She’s not always trying to be, but Ling Ma’s sense of humor is rampant in the subtle contemplations strung throughout the book. It’s also a really refreshing viewpoint of Chinese culture. You can tell that Ma has endowed this story with as many realistic and holistic details as she can. This story gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “made in China.”
My two favorite aspects of Severance that really sealed the deal for me were:
1) the very specific references to landmarks, pop culture, etc. Ling Ma provides a really abundant amount of details when describing New York City or a specific time in Candace’s life. She keeps references flowing, and rather than feeling like they go over our head, it helped to create a full, relevant picture.
2) the continuous jabs at modern work culture. She created an apocalypse and a character entirely based around the idea of people who never stop working. People who would move into their office just to be able to work more. People who will complete the same mundane tasks over and over and over again until they say. People who, in the face of loss, sickness, death, and catastrophe, will still come into work and expect their employees to punch in accordingly.
This was a strange book. At times, I felt like my mind was trying to convince my instinct not to enjoy it. It juggles a lot of different jagged pieces. Is this an apocalypse book? A romance? A satire? A humorous criticism of millennial workplace culture? A diverse look as life as a modern Chinese immigrant? The answer: it is all of those things.
But somehow, Ling Ma narrowly avoids the calamity that would result from dropping all of these moving parts. The book’s completely zany edge comes together cohesively. It is a fiercely original and really enjoyable satire.