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Publisher Description

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.

Winner of the 2019 NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award

Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction

Winner of the 2019 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

Winner of the 2019 Friends of American Writers First Prize in Literature

Finalist for the 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel

Shortlisted for the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction

A New York Times Notable Book of 2018

An NPR Best Book of 2018

An Elle Best Book of 2018

A Marie Claire Best Book of 2018

A Buzzfeed Best Book of 2018

A Refinery29 Best Book of 2018

A Jezebel Favorite Book of 2018

A Bustle Best Book of 2018

An Electric Lit Best Novel of 2018

A Lit Hub Best Book of 2018

A BookPage Best Book of 2018

A Bookish Best Book of 2018

A Mental Floss Best Book of 2018

A Chicago Review of BooksBest Book of 2018

A HuffPost Best Fiction Book of 2018

An Electric Literature Best Book of 2018

An A.V. Club Favorite Book of 2018

A Jezebel Favorite Book of 2018

A Vulture Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2018

Longlisted for the Aspen Words Prize

A Book of the Month Club Selection for December 2018

Shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award

New York Magazine Approval Matrix, "Highbrow Brilliant"

An Indie Next Great Reads Selection

A Southern Living Best New Book of Summer 2018

A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2018

An Alma Favorite Book for Fall

A Nylon Best Book of Summer 2018

A Chicago Magazine Summer Reading Pick

A Library Journal Summer Fall Best Debut Novel

An April Magazine Most Anticipated Book of 2018

A BookBub Laugh-Out-Loud Book of 2018

A Library Journal Debut With Credentials

A Refinery29 Best New Book of August 2018

A Greenlight Bookstore Pick in Brooklyn Paper

‘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

‘A hilariously searing critique of who we are and how we survive in a modern world...Ma’s caustic humor and incredibly smart commentary on late capitalism compares our adherence to routine and groupthink to a terminal infection. Her precise language, original voice, and use of all-too-relatable details inform the debut’s deadpan depiction of a society teetering on the edge.’ Shondaland

‘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

‘Funny, frightening, and touching...Ling Ma manages the impressive trick of delivering a bildungsroman, a survival tale, and satire of late capitalist millennial angst in one book, and Severance announces its author as a supremely talented writer to watch.’ Millions Most Anticipated

‘This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn't mean it's a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment...Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.’ Kirkus Reviews, starred review

‘Ma’s language does so much in this book, and its precision, its purposeful specificity, implicates an entire generation. But what is most remarkable is the gentleness with which Ma describes those working within the capital-S System. What does it mean if a person finds true comfort working as a "cog" in a system they disagree with? Is that comfort any less real?’ Buzzfeed, #1 Summer Read Pick

‘Embracing the [apocalyptic fiction] genre but somehow transcending it, Ma creates a truly engrossing and believable anti-utopian world. Ma's extraordinary debut marks a notable creative jump by playing on the apocalyptic fears many people share today.’ Booklist, American Library Association (starred review)

‘Ma’s writing about the jargon of globalised capitalism has a mix of humour and pathos that reminded me a little of Infinite Jest and a little of George Saunders; it produced a sense of estrangement from my cosmetics, my clothes, and my iPhone. I finished it feeling sad and sensitive to the garbage all around us that comes at such a high cost to planetary and human welfare.’ New Yorker, What We’re Reading This Summer

‘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 smart, searing exposé on the perils of consumerism, Google overload, and millennial malaise…An already established audience will be eager to discover this work.’ Library Journal

Severance is the most gorgeously written novel I’ve read all year; when I finished it, I immediately picked it up and read it all over again.’ The New Republic

Severance is the best work of fiction I’ve read yet about the millennial condition―the alienation and cruelty that comes with being a functional person under advanced global capitalism, and the compromised pleasures and irreducibly personal meaning to be found in claiming some stability in a terrible world. I love how, in this novel, doom is inevitable, and yet it comes so slowly you might not even notice it. Ling Ma has written one of my favorite novels of the year.’ Jia Tolentino

‘A satirical spin on the end times―kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers.’ Elle

‘[A] standout debut. Satiric and playful―as well as scary . . . Ling Ma is an assured and inventive storyteller [and her novel] reflects on the nature of human identity and how much the repetitive tasks we perform come to define who we are. . . . A sardonic wake-up call.’ Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, National Public Radio

‘[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

‘How do you fit a zombie novel inside an immigrant story inside a coming-of-age tale? Ling Ma . . . accomplished this feat in her gripping and original turducken of a novel . . . Fascinating.’ The Chicago Tribune

‘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

‘Gorgeously wacky.’ Vulture

‘Tense and elegant, Ma’s writing here masterfully treads the line between genre fiction and literature. Part bildungsroman, part horror flick, Severance thrillingly morphs into a novel about self-worth, about the kinds of value we place on our own lives.’ The Nation

‘Ling Ma’s extraordinary debut encompasses many genres and might just be the first and only coming-of-age, immigrant experience, anti-capitalist zombie novel you’ll ever need.’ The Cut

‘I recommend [Severance] unreservedly: it’s perfect for when you’re living in that space between “oh shit, what if the world ends” and “oh shit, what if the world doesn’t end”―and truly, who isn’t living in that space right now?’ Lit Hub

‘Shocking and ferocious . . . a fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination. . . a wicked satire of consumerism and work culture . . . It's a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring: This is the way the world ends, Ma seems to be saying, not with a bang but a memo.’ NPR.org

‘A suspenseful adventure that doubles as a sly critique of late capitalism.’ Vulture

‘As debut novels go, Severance is about as original and assured as they come.’ The Chicago Tribune

‘Ling Ma’s debut novel tackles countless themes―immigration, work culture, family, capitalism, and the confusing aimlessness of your early 20s―with a dry wit that keeps the horrific digestible, the repetitive laughable, and the pages turning.’ Marie Claire

‘Astounding . . . Ma’s engrossing, masterfully written debut transforms the mundane into a landscape of tricky memory, where questions of late-stage capitalism, immigration, displacement and motherhood converge in such a sly build-up as to render the reader completely stunned.’ BookPage

‘A brilliantly unsettling dystopian novel following a young woman who somehow escapes a fever epidemic and joins a cult-like group of fellow survivors.’ Bust

‘Ma's writing is compelling and cogent, perfectly satirizing a world that often feels beyond parody.’ Nylon

‘[Severance is] a book about work that puts the work in the context of globalization, a book that is mordant and sad and full of quicksilver allegories. I loved that book so much.’ Lydia Kiesling, The Millions

‘With exquisite pacing, Ling Ma alternates between Candace’s precarious present and her childhood as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and contemplates the possibility of a future in a lonely, blasted world. Severance is a scathing portrait of a society collapsing under its own ungovernable appetites, as well as a haunting meditation on family inheritance and its loss.’ Huffington Post

Severance meets and exceeds the promise of [its] exciting description. In many ways, Severance is a novel of ideas―it artfully blends/bends genre, it boldly indicts global capitalism, consumerism, and materialism―but every one of its intellectual aims is deeply grounded in the richly felt experiences of the narrator. Electric Lit

‘For readers who love their literary fiction with a dash of apocalypse, this one's for you.’ Bookish

‘Ma is satiric about the workplace, in a way that’s less snobbish than Nell Zink but just as funny and imaginative . . . All the best metaphors in the book are cleverly crafted harbingers . . . Her dexterity in joking about capitalism rivals the skill of the great Richard Powers.’ BookForum

‘Ling Ma's novel Severance is an astute combination of workplace novel and apocalyptic tale. Smart and filled with humanity, this debut is one of the year's best books.’ Large-Hearted Boy

‘This depiction of the Midwest feels unexpectedly of our time, at a moment when coastal nostalgia for the heartland has fixated as much on frontier sentimentalism (prairie dresses, artisanal foods) as it has dead mall videos and ruin porn.’ Lit Hub

‘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

Fiction & Literature
17 September
The Text Publishing Company
Text Publishing

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