released OUT NOW! 291 pages | Paperback/ebook Author ling Ma Publisher Text Publishing
Carriage ponies roam free through the semi-abandoned streets of central New York, while fevered citizens are condemned to repeat simulacra of their daily tasks in unending loops in this post-apocalyptic musing, which reads more like a wistful memoir than a genre novel.
Chinese-born Candace Chen, camped out in her office in Times Square, reluctantly joins a cult-like group of survivors escaping the city. That’s the narrative drive of the story, though the richness of Ling Ma’s text comes not from what’s happening, but how Chen came to be here and the memories of place and family she brings with her. Gorgeously evocative – a feeling she describes as “Fuzhou Nighttime Feeling” (after her home town) is almost tangible – Severance is a rich and assured literary sci-fi tackling themes not unfamiliar to the dystopian genre (consumerism, loss of identity, the individual vs the group).
The “zombies” here aren’t flesh-hungry monsters either, but the sad husks of trapped souls. Though the here-andnow plot spattered throughout is slight, it’s a framing device – a scenario to afford Ma’s heroine a reason to reflect on her culture and background: on the West from the eyes of the East, on love and life as a whole. Unsatisfying if you thought it was a zombie novel, perhaps, but as a piece of existential contemporary fiction it’s stunning. Rosie Fletcher