Just Read: “Severance” by Ling Ma

Read June 6, 2020 – June 9, 2020

Ling Ma, born in China and raised in the United States, published her first novel, Severance, in 2018. The novel began as a project for her MFA at Cornell University and she later finished and published it. When researching about her I realized that there are very obvious aspects of her own life that she was inspired by when writing this novel. Severance is also full of depth, unlike some of the other newer releases I’ve read, and I had a hard time not notating and highlighting for analytical purposes. I picked up this book when I had a failed attempt at starting a book club in 2019 and it sat on my shelf waiting to be read. Coronavirus struck and suddenly I had a ton of extra down time on my hands so I picked up the book – this was not the right choice for me when the lockdown first started so I put it down and only recently decided I was ready to continue. You’ll understand why…

What is it about? 

Have you seen “The Walking Dead” or “Zombieland” or “Contagion”? Even if you haven’t, do you know what they’re about? This book takes those general ideas and mashes them together. A virus from China has made its way to the United States and the story is an exploration of what happens. People get fevered – similar to the way a zombie might be – and its transmitted through fungal spores, not through biting. There are a couple of settings, New York City appearing to be the most prominent, and we see life before, during, and after the outbreak. 

The narrator is Candace Chu, an Asian immigrant from China who moved to the United States as a child when her family was trying to provide more opportunity for her. You learn of life in China, her life in New York, and what happens to her because of Coronavirus… JUST KIDDING… it’s called Shen Fever. The fevered behave in this heartbreaking way, moving through memories and never experiencing the present. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s pretty powerful stuff. I was so anxious reading this because at the start of COVID-19 we didn’t really know what would happen, I mean we arguably still don’t know the full extent, and I couldn’t stop picturing myself in a Shen-COVID hybrid situation.

What does it have?

  • Post-Apocalyptical Life 
  • Virus from China
  • Workplace Decisions
  • Hierarchy in Survival Groups

This novel really has you considering how you might behave in an end of the world situation. How long do you continue showing up at work? When do you evacuate? At what point do you take it seriously and prepare? And further, how am I spending my time? “Memories beget memories. Shen Fever being a disease of remembering, the fevered are trapped indefinitely in their memories. But what is the difference between the fevered and us”(Severance). We’re alive creating memories. Or are we catatonic, living in our memories? A reminder of the importance of creating something to remember…

Is it worth reading?

Yes. Yes. It’s just fewer than 300 pages and evokes feeling for the Candace, her condition, and it gets you thinking about the human condition as a whole. If you’re still very anxious because of the current state of the world with Coronavirus, maybe wait until you’re feeling a little better. This novel won’t be enough of an escape from what we have been experiencing for months. I’m glad I picked the book back up last week, though, and I hope Ling Ma continues writing.

Let me know in the comments below if you found this review helpful! Feedback gives me an idea of what info you want to see in This Just Read posts 🙂

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