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Severance by Ling Ma


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ling Ma, on your first book!
Once a year, we break our own rules and share a book from earlier in the year that wowed us.

by Ling Ma

Quick take

This inventive satire about the end of the world as we know it is one we just didn't want to miss in 2018.

Good to know

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    Nonlinear timeline

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This is a satirical book with a non-chronological plot and very dark humor.

Why I love it

Siobhan Jones
BOTM Editorial Team

Look, I want to be a good book-mom here and say that I love all our selections equally. But the truth is, there are a few reads from this year that I absolutely adored—For Better and Worse and An American Marriage come to mind—above all the others. And the book I loved most of all in 2018, the queen of the stack (if you will), is Severance.

The story has two plotlines, a Before and After. Before: Candace Chen, a twenty-something year old in New York City, toils at a totally unglamorous book production job, so mired in the details of Bible manufacture (polyurethane and sateen, anyone?) that she doesn’t realize a sudden pandemic is ringing in the apocalypse. After: Candace and a ragtag group of survivors flee west, trying to avoid encounters with the 99% of the world that the plague has reduced to (harmless) zombies—and scavenging for food, pills, and marijuana.

I don’t normally dig post-apocalyptic books because they always seem to devolve into the same stomach-turning quagmires of lawlessness and starvation. But in Severance, the end of the world is signaled not by tribes of fearsome cannibals, but by the gradual dismantling of corporate life; emails go unanswered, office branches are closed, and one by one, the great tentpoles of capitalism fall. That’s why I loved this book—it’s not so much scary as absurd, and more thoughtful than action-driven. It’s I Am Legend for the plugged-in, globally conscious, thinking woman. I could not be more obsessed.

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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 halt operations. The subways squeak 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?

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Get an early look from the first pages of Severance.

Read a sample →

Member thoughts

All (5644)
All (5644)
Love (1985)
Like (2764)
Dislike (895)
5823 ratings
  • 34% Love
  • 47% Like
  • 15% Dislike
    • Upgrade
    • Project Hail Mary
    • The Space Between Worlds
    • Severance
    • World War Z
    • The End of October
    • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
    • Dark Matter
    • Ready Player Two
    • Recursion
    • We Could Be Heroes
    • The Municipalists
    • The Martian
    • Ready Player One
    • The Impossible Fortress
    • The Power
    • Artemis
    • Golden State
    • Early Riser