Severance by Ling Ma

★★★☆☆

Severance by Ling Ma about a young woman surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. A disease called Shen Fever is spreading across the world, causing people to perform rote tasks over and over again until they die. Candace Chen is a young production manager at a book publisher and as the epidemic worsens and people begin to leave New York City, she decides to take her employer’s offer of a large sum of money to stay and continue working. She has no family and no where to go. New York is her home.

As work dries up (many of the workers at the print factory in Shenzen become fevered and can’t fulfill what few orders are still being made) and New York deteriorates with more people continuing leaving, Chen re-starts an old photo-blog called NY Ghost and documents what is happening to the city. Eventually things get so bad she decides that it is finally time for her to leave, long after everyone else has. She falls in with a group of survivors led by a man named Bob. They’re making their way to a place called the Facility, which turns out to be a mall near Chicago that Bob spent much of his childhood in.

Ending a post-apocalyptic novel is a challenge (see many of Stephen King’s novels and people’s reactions to them) and I feel this one’s ending is abrupt and not completely satisfying. But up until that point, Ling Ma’s debut novel, in which Chen alternates between narratives of her current situation and of her childhood as the daughter of Chinese immigrants who came to America so she could have a better life, is compelling and interesting and makes the three hundred pages go by quickly.