Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine: her work, watching movies with her boyfriend, avoiding thoughts of her recently deceased Chinese immigrant parents. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps the world.
Candace joins a small group of survivors, led by the power-hungry Bob, on their way to 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, Severance is a moving family story, a deadpan satire and a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.
Ling Ma was born in Sanming, China and grew up in Utah, Nebraska and Kansas. She attended the University of Chicago and received an 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 other publications. A chapter of Severance received the 2015 Graywolf SLS Prize. She lives in Chicago.
‘Laced within its dystopian narrative is an encapsulation of a first-generation immigrant’s nostalgia for New York...“Severance” evokes traces of, if not Meghan Daum in her “misspent youth,” then the essay “Goodbye to All That,” when a young and equally bemused Joan Didion looks at gleaming kitchens through brownstone windows, considering New York not as a place of residence but as a romantic notion.’ New York Times
‘It’s a novel that 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...[T]his is a monumentally unnerving novel, one that leaves no easy answers or comfortable nooks in which to take refuge.’ Tor
‘It’s a stunning book. I devoured Severance in as close to a single sitting as possible...and it shook me on an emotional level that no other apocalyptic novel has reached.’ Chicago Review of Books
‘In the end, Severance isn’t so much a story about zombies as it is an imaginative critique of capitalism. Underneath Ma’s deadpan comedy lie shrewd observations of the West and the decadence of our everyday existence.’ Paris 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] semi-surreal sendup of a workplace and its utopia of rules, not unlike Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End . . . Laced within Ma's dystopian narrative is an arresting encapsulation of a first-generation immigrant's nostalgia for New York . . . Severance evokes traces of . . . Joan Didion.’ The New York Times Book Review
‘Ma’s prose is, for the most part, understated and restrained, somewhat in the manner of Kazuo Ishiguro . . . Ma is at her most deft when depicting this kind of Severance: the amputation of the immigrant’s past, preserved like a phantom limb whose pain is haunted with absence.’ The New Yorker