Severance by Ling Ma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love how the title word Severance is interpreted and re-interpreted throughout this book.
Time slips in interesting ways in this book, from present to past and present again, and I’m tempted to take a second look at this book and track its progression. Something specific I noted about the passage of time is how realistic in felt in the “past” timeline that immediately preceded New York City’s evacuation; it reminds me of the way my own coronavirus journal reads when my situation was at its most urgent.
Similarly, I found the in-universe symbolism of the masks to be fascinating. Although Shen Fever is a fungus-borne illness and not spread by respiratory droplets (unlike COVID-19), the healthy people wear masks to signal to other people that they are still cognizant and unaffected. It is the mark of the un-fevered. It’s hard not to parallel that to our current situation somehow, even I’m currently too braindead to parse out the specific similarities and differences.
I know this book is supposed to be a rallying cry against our current consumer office-drone culture, and I see elements of the capitalism critique, but I think the critique of our working culture is less impactful because of the way Candace is characterized. She’s characterized as a constant loner, someone who holds herself at a distance with most people. “Spend time with your family,” an overseas colleague tells her, but where would Candace even go? Candace always held herself apart from her coworkers; they aren’t her family. The closest thing to family she seems to have is her ex-boyfriend, who breaks up with her and tries to convince her to move away with him, and her old roommate, who she lost years earlier when their lease was up. She’s a loner. So Candace’s dedication to work and to projects plays less as a character flaw and more like a woman who’s solitary and wants to fill her time with something meaningful.
On that note, I wanted something more of the end of the book, but that’s me, always wanting to know everything. Craft-wise, I thought the final chapters were very much aligned with how Candace is characterized throughout the book.