I am SOOO behind on my Book of the Month Club reading, but I finally read Severance by Ling Ma. It was…weird. I THINK I got it, but I’m not even sure, but I’m glad I only paid $3 for it at a thrift store and it wasn’t too long of a read.
Shen Fever has hit, and Candace Chen is one of the only survivors. She’s not been infected by this zombie-like illness that makes you lose consciousness and do rote activities again and again until you stop feeding yourself, get banged up, all that jazz. It’s hard to explain here, but the book does a good job of showing you. Candace is now on a drive across the country with several other survivors and recounting the story of how she lived in New York City and got out after the fever hit–but maybe not fast enough. We alternate between the present Candace on her journey, stalking houses for supplies and answering to a religious leader and Candace’s life in NYC, working in Bible production, dating, and just kind of existing. We also see Candace’s childhood as a child of immigrants, her parents love story, et cetera.
Yes, that’s a lot in a 270-some page book, and some of it works. I did often wonder “why the heck am I reading this” about things like Shark Finn soup and immigration journeys, but I guess it all goes to the point of reflection, memory and nostalgia that are at the root of Shen Fever. It’s interesting, and I kind of liked how contemporary fiction was melding with speculative fiction, and I’m glad I read it, but I’d call it a three star read for me. I’ll probably pick up something Ling Ma writes again, but I may not rush to read it. I really enjoyed the survivalist/speculative elements of the book, but it felt like it was pushing the “literary” elements at an unnecessary level. Some backstory can be interwoven without devoting an entire chapter to characters we never see on page.