Maybe I am a slight masochist, but reading a book about an epidemic that is the catalyst for the end times while in the midst of a pandemic was exactly what I was in the mood for last week. Severance by Ling Ma, set in New York City, opens in the midst of an epidemic that has slowly wiped out most of the cities residents, as well as others throughout the United States. Candace Chen is a Chinese immigrant who came to the city with her parents as a child. She is used to not having a place to call home, even more so now that both of her parents have passed away. A virus originating from China that begins as a fever and turns people into semi zombies that go about their normal routines, but with zero emotion, until they succumb to the disease. The virus is spread through fungal spores in the air, so Candace receives N95 masks to wear at work and around the city. One by one, the people around Candace contract the virus until she is one of the few left.
Severance shows the slow unraveling of the end of the world. As opposed to a catastrophe, a pandemic/epidemic of this sort unravels slowly and does not require immediate reaction. Ma's writing shows that unfolding as Candace begins to take in what is happening around her, but the severity of the situation does not register until the virus has affected most of the city.
The similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic is eerie to say the least:
Virus originating in China? Check.
Virus that travels to other areas of the world, with New York City being the US epicenter? Check.
Watching others react with either panic, serene calmness, or denial? Check.
Survivors seeking the comfort of routines? Check.
To say this book was somewhat of a field guide to our current times is not that far of a stretch. Though the symptoms and the way the virus is spread differ, so much can be related to with our current pandemic. Candace eventually leaves NYC after being one of the lone survivors and meets a band of other survivors who are destined to a place called "The Facility" in Chicago. Candace also harbors a secret that she keeps close to the chest. The survivors she meets up with are lead by a former IT guy named Bob, who is annoying, semi cult-like, and just the type of person you would expect to survive a pandemic and try and brainwash people.
Severance by Ling Ma is literary fiction dooms day gold. Even the title of the book is incredibly thought provoking. "Severance" is the action of ending a connection or relationship. Candace's story flashes back to her relationship with her parents, her former boyfriend, and her life in China and New York City. Most of Candace's life has been severing ties with one thing or another. The virus causes a severance of life as they know it for anyone who avoids contracting it. This is one of those books that will leave you thinking long after you finish it and I HIGHLY recommend you read it. While, it might be triggering if you read it during the current pandemic, I think you should work it into your reading list for when you are ready.