Review – Severance, by Ling Ma


Severance
by Ling Ma

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia

Length: 304 Pages

Release date: August 14, 2018

Synopsis: 

An offbeat office novel turns apocalyptic satire as a young woman transforms from orphan to worker bee to survivor

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 halt operations. The subways squeak 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.

rating

three

Severance feels like a zombie story that very much does not want to call itself a zombie story. While the people infected with Shen Fever don’t go around trying to eat brains, there is a very zombie-like quality to their mindless repetition of rote tasks. Then again, the narrator has a bit of a zombie-like quality to her as well, as do a lot of the work-obsessed people huddled together in New York City before the fever breaks out. (And, my God, does Ling Ma hammer that point home. The parallels between the meaningless rate race and the actual zombies are brought up so many times it seems like the author was afraid the readers would miss it.)

The overall tone of the novel may be best described as “sleepy,” which is an interesting choice for an apocalyptic novel, but I suppose it meshes well with the characterization of Candace. Prior to the fever breaking out, she was whiling away her youth in an office job she had more or less fallen into and didn’t particularly enjoy, but endured for the stability it offered.

Structurally, the novel bounces around a lot in time, which was somewhat disorienting at times. For the most part, it switches back and forth between Candace’s time working in her office and her later travels with a small band of remaining survivors. At one point, it switches without warning to give the backstory of her parents, detailing their coming to America from China and her mother’s struggle to adjust.

I think that the cultural aspects of the novel were one of its major strengths. Candace’s status as an immigrant is important to the story in a lot of ways, and her experience as someone who came to America as a child contrasted sharply with that of her parents. China would always be home to them. Despite being born there, Candace felt less connection, and struggling to speak Mandarin on an adult level became a source of embarrassment for her. I always find stories of first generation immigrants interesting, particularly the exploration of what it’s like to be essentially sandwiched between to cultures, and I thought this was something Ling Ma handled very well.

Overall, I enjoyed Severance, but found it somewhat lacking in terms of plot. The lack of structure in terms of timelines left things feeling somewhat disconnected, and it began to get very repetitive when it came to the point of drawing parallels between the drone-like qualities of both the fevered and healthy people in the story.

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Thank you for reading! What was the last book you read that dealt with an apocalyptic scenario? Let me know in the comments!

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Review – The Rule of One, by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

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The Rule of One by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

Genre: YA, Dystopia

Length: 258 Pages

Release date: October 1, 2018

Publisher: Skyscrape

Synopsis: 

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.

In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.

rating

fourI received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book: identical twin sisters written by identical twin sisters. Ava and Mira are closer than most twins are, though not entirely by choice. The one child rule in this dystopian, near-future America means that they take turns going out into the world each day, and their struggle to maintain the facade of being a single person requires that they keep each other informed about every detail of their lives.

The lack of an ability to obtain a sense of individuality takes a toll on each of them, and the mixture of love and resentment between the sisters was a highlight of the novel. What must it be like when the person you love the most is also the reason you’re unable to live a full live, the reason you’re in constant danger? The Saunders sisters explore that ambivalence in this novel. On a similar note, I loved that this was a YA dystopian novel with no romance or (God forbid) a love triangle shoe-horned in for no discernible reason. The primary relationship in this book was between two sisters, which I found really refreshing.

That being said, some of the plot twists felt a bit too predictable, though maybe this is a product of reading a young adult novel as an adult. A lot of YA novels feel like they have the ability to appeal to a broader audience, but this one felt very YA. Teenagers will probably find this super compelling; older readers who have read more than a few dystopian novels will recognize the tropes and perhaps wish for something a bit more original.

The Rule of One was good for what it was: a novel that will hold a lot of appeal for teens. It was fast-paced with just enough twists to keep the reader engaged. I loved the concept of identical twins living as one person by necessity and the emotional consequences of that. The parts of the novel that addressed this issue were very strong, but I do wish there was more time devoted to it. Although it looks like there will be a book two; perhaps there will be more time to reflect on this in the second installment.

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Review – VOX, by Christina Dalcher

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VOX
by Christina Dalcher

Genre: Dystopian

Length: 326 Pages

Release date: August 21, 2018

Publisher: Berkley

Synopsis:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice

rating

five

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

VOX is a dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale which expertly blends the personal and the political. Set in an America which has been taken over by hyper-conservative extremists, women are no longer allowed to work, and they are forced to wear word counters which administer painful electric shocks if they go over their allotted 100 daily words.

One of the highlights of the novel is Jean’s strained relationship with her husband. Prior to the political shift which left Jean as a second class citizen, she viewed her husband as gentle; now, she views him as meek and cowardly. He privately disagrees with the direction the country has taken, but feels unable to push for change in his professional life, where he works closely with the president. The slow, simmering resentment is palpable.

Jean makes a really intriguing protagonist for a novel like this, as she was a highly respected scientist before losing her rights. She was a neuroscientist specializing in Wernicke’s Aphasia and working to develop a cure. Wernicke’s Aphasia leaves sufferers unable to produce meaningful speech; words come to them freely and perhaps even in a grammatically correct sequence, but their sentences are gibberish, utterly lacking in meaning. (An example from the book: “Cookie for your thoughts and when the Red Sox gossiping and galloping, I don’t know. There’s going to be hyper-tension!”) Jean’s life’s work was to help give people back the ability to communicate, and she has now been robbed of that herself.

If I have any criticism of VOX, it’s this: I would have liked to see more of the novel devoted to exploring how American society ended up in that state. For example, in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood makes a big point of emphasizing how far-right groups pounced on the panic induced by plummeting birth rates. In VOX, it doesn’t feel like quite enough time is devoted to exploring how social mores shifted enough to allow such a drastic change. The America portrayed in VOX is essentially identical to our own… until it isn’t anymore. In retrospect, perhaps this is more ominous than The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read VOX? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
What’s your favorite novel with feminist themes? Let’s discuss!

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