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Severance

A Novel
Written by: Ling Ma
Narrated by: Nancy Wu
Length: 9 hrs and 54 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Maybe it’s the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma’s offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance. 

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 cease operations. The subways screech 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?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a moving family story, a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale, and a hilarious, deadpan satire. Most important, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.

©2018 Ling Ma (P)2018 Macmillan Audio

What the critics say

"Narrator Nancy Wu delivers an outstanding performance of this cheeky satirical novel...Listeners will be entertained by the world building; cast of amusing, eccentric characters; and bizarre charm of the aloof heroine." (AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award Winner)  

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • j phillips
  • 2018-12-06

4.04 stars

This year's Kirkus Prize for fiction winner is a somewhat original take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Ling Ma's Severance is referred to as "deadpan satire," and Audible classifies this novel as Fiction/Humor. The latter isn't quite accurate, mainly because the story isn't funny. It is, however, clever at times. The story is slow at first, especially for a post-apocalyptic novel, and it never really turns into a page turner. Ma's literary dystopia deals in loneliness, routine, loyalty (to a fault), and documentation.

The narrator of this audiobook, Nancy Wu, sounds a lot like Siri or Alexa. This was annoying at first, but I didn't notice it as much after an hour or two. I'm pretty certain it was not intentional, but her droning, robotic speech patterns somewhat match the tone of this audiobook. I've got mixed feelings about Severance. It's one of those books you don't necessarily love while reading/listening to it, but you like it more after you're finished with it. With all the great performances I've heard this year, I find it hard to believe this performance worthy of the AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award Winner. It's not terrible, but it's not on the level of some of the better audio performances. If you liked Station Eleven, this book is probably one you will like as well.

Overall rating: 4.04 stars

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Zoe
  • 2018-08-24

entirely original, beautifully crafted

I loved this. A wonderfully imagined story, with a compelling and original central character. I prefer sensory details to psychological ones, and the writing manages to be frank, smart and full of atmosphere all at once, which I really enjoyed... So well done (and read).

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Kelly
  • 2019-05-13

I feel so fortunate to have found this book.

The headline of my review says it all.

In my very, very humble opinion, this novel, its author, and its narrator deserve all of the accolades they have received and more. if you're looking for another cut-and-dry dystopian thriller, this isn't going to be it. This is a book about love, family, memory, and the inherent loneliness of the human condition; but also, and above all, the inherent capacity we have as humans to have hope, even when it seems there is none.

Nancy Wu's performance is breathtakingly realistic in its portrayal of all of the novel's characters, most notably the nuances of Candace's mother. From the main cast to the most fleeting of supporting characters, I felt like I knew and could visualize each one of them; not only because of Ma's beautiful yet true-to-life writing style, but because of Wu's performance.

Do yourself a favor and get this book. It's definitely one that I know will stay with me for a long time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruthi
  • 2019-02-22

Best apocalyptic book I’ve ever read

You can feel the utter desolation in NYC in this virus-driven apocalypse scenario in ways I’ve never felt reading an apocalyptic scenario ft NYC before. It felt like a vivid dream or a reality I’ve felt firsthand- something so much THERE in my mind that saying “I only read it, heard it on audiobook,” feels like a joke. Ling Ma has completely reinvented the sub genre for me. I’ve felt mostly bored with end of the world scenarios since I found out I was biologically Jewish & didn’t need to fake Christianity anymore, as it were. When it’s been the only thing dreamed of for decades as a reality, fiction is just boring at best or overly dark at worst, but Ling Ma accomplished both emotional bleakness overlaid with that most human feeling of all - hope, inspite of- in ways I’ve not ever experienced outside of religious texts or sermons. I’m really glad I bought this via Audible after seeing it recommended on some Booklr/Literature/Debut Authors/some blog or another’s page because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel & can’t recommend it enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-05-17

Didn't care about the characters

Unfocused, this apocalyptic tale was unengaging and frustrating, with only a few redeeming moments to enjoy.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-05-06

A surprising novel, excellent narration

I throughly enjoyed the story, at times it shocked me with the changes in tone, odd descriptors that contributed to a general feeling of uneasiness throughly the book (which works well for a novel about the disintegration of society due to a virus). Nancy Wu’s narration fit well with the tone of the story, and I really felt that she was Candace. No spoilers, but the ending was particularly good. Not predictable, but it felt like an ending that made sense and fit with the characters personalities and the general plot of the novel. It didn’t feel inevitable, it felt like it belonged.

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  • Jacob Ford
  • 2019-05-02

Lovingly paired future & past, in odd raspy voices

In this apocalyptic novels with out-of-order flashbacks to the days before society's breakdown, future and past pair nicely: I think the way you're supposed to pretend wine pairs nicely with your food.

A little unnecessary (and literal) "as you know Bob" and some inconsistency between what technical details are explains vs. which are not, and which violence is detailed and which is conveniently censored.

It's a good technically thought-out apocalyptic book.

The thing I really just couldn't handle was Nancy Wu's voice for all the male characters. Kind of a gratey, raspy mixture of lifeguard bro and Batman parody. It's not fun to listen to, and in many instances I feel it brought a tone to their lines that wasn't supposed to be there. A couple instances where tone or sarcasm felt invented on female characters too.

But! Wu did bring a loving warmth to the Chinese characters as they expressed love and dismay though a cultural divide (a big part of the book) and as they pronounced—sometimes struggling to pronounce—English phrases and names. I thought that was a lovely audible addition to the story.

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  • Tonneli
  • 2019-03-20

it went by too fast

I loved this story, I loved the ties to millenial workaholic culture, the end of the world, and empowerment. excellent story and narration.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-02-09

Unfulfilled

Despite the painstaking detail included in describing the most mundane personal tasks, the characters are shallow and mostly unrelatable in their cliche demons. The lead character drew neither my sympathy nor dislike throughout the weak and predictable plot. I kept waiting for drama but found instead the story was robotic and mundane, like the narrator and the characters. The scenes moved at a consistent pace without excitement. The last chapter, not even an ending, is in retrospect as expected.

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  • Sam S Smith
  • 2019-02-07

Mispronunciations

The narrator mispronounced so many words it made me crazy! And the story is just not that good. Don’t waste your time. Much better post-apocalyptic fiction out there.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful