Severance – Ling Ma

Rating: 1.5/5

I can’t lie, guys – I kind of hated this book for how depressing it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s objectively well-written and I’m impressed this is Ma’s debut novel, but on a more personal level, it made me want to scrub all memory of reading this from my brain because it’s just that depressing…not to mention it’s EERILY SIMILAR to the coronavirus pandemic breaking out right now!

This has an interesting variation of the classic zombie apocalypse scenario. The premise: Shen Fever sweeps across the entire world, but instead of turning someone into a brain-eating rabid zombie, it turns him into a mindless shell of a person who just repeats a mundane activity over and over until he decays into nothing.

Gruesome and eerie. What really makes the book strike too close to home is that it’s set in New York City, and the thought of my vibrant, noisy, sleepless, ever-churning city turned into a ghost town as everyone dies just fills me with so much dread, honestly. I kind of see it happening already as restaurants, bars, theatres, and other public venues are getting extremely skittish about what’s to come, and it’s stressful to think that what makes NYC NYC could all shut down.

Candace, the protagonist, is hardly compelling either – she’s too quiet, a little awkward, not particularly ambitious or passionate about anything – overall just kind of a blah, boring person. When she finally leaves New York after everyone else has already fled/become fevered, she gets picked up by this weird cult-like survival group that she spends the rest of the book figuring out how to escape as well. And throughout all of this, the book’s detached tone (aided by a lack of quotation marks…I hate when books try to be ‘different’ and drop quotation marks and stuff) just emphasizes the horror of the landscape even more.

So…yeah. Critics liked this book but I found it to be a very strange, unpalatable story.

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