Sunday, July 28, 2019

Review: Severance

I do not think book blurbists and I read the same book.

Offbeat office novel?

Apocalyptic satire?

Wry? Witty?

Yeah, we definitely read different novels.

Before we begin, here is your spoiler alert: I will reveal plot points in this review that may spoil the story for you. Please proceed at your own risk.

Okay, good? Are we ready? Let's get to work.

Candace is employed by a midtown Manhattan book publishing company and oversees production of their Christian Bibles. Her parents are dead, her extended family is in China, and her boyfriend lives with few attachments to "place." She is more attached to "place," but her roots are shallow.

So when Shen Fever hits,  she views it very differently than her coworkers and her love. They have family and friends, options and networks. She has a lapsed photo blog and her mother's salad spinner. Her employer takes advantage of that and gives her an anchor: "manage" the building for a period of time, until everything settles down, and get a huge financial payout.

So she stays. She stays in New York City, in her job, and with her boyfriend (until he climbs aboard a yacht without her, much to his dismay.) She is our witness to the end of times.

Candace's story unfolds as if she is un-crumpling a piece of paper, smoothing out the particularly rough parts of the page to read the fine print. The story starts in the middle, then jumps around in what slowly appears a logical pattern. The parts she smooths out are engagingly written, and her perception as an alien in her new country and to her parents is crystal clear, perceptive, and heartbreaking

Candace tells her story with no embellishments, and the language is at times stunningly stark, direct, beautiful and perceptive. She is of two worlds: the world of her anxious, isolated mother, and that of a teenager coming of age in Salt Lake City. Her observations are rich and raw, cruel and completely unsentimental. The story is not strictly linear, which adds to Candace’s mystery.

Despite the good writing and interesting story, it took me a while to finish the book. I stopped for a few weeks at the roughly halfway mark, which to me was a natural break. Up to that point, the story and Candace felt meandering and lethargic, with no real sense of urgency to reach the end — so I was not compelled to race to the end.

I would not call the book wry or satirical, and under no circumstances would I call it humorous. I think the author took the story and the characters (particularly Candace) very seriously, and that works well for the novel.

The ending: brilliant or a letdown? I think that depends on the reader’s take on Candace’s state of mind. At a certain point, I wondered if the story was taking place solely inside Candace’s head: her solidarity life was so severe and simple, to the point of being rote. (Sounds almost fevered, no?) 

And yet, there is more (or maybe less). Because of her disconnect to her environment and her natural tendency for isolation, could she have been so far removed from reality and sensory perception that she stopped actually *seeing* her surroundings? Could New York have ended so quietly? Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.

In the end, it is a unique tale — and one that could only be told by Candace's generation. I would recommend it. If you read it, or have read it, let us know what you thought: comment below, or send me a message and I'll share with the class.

Shout-out to Bard's Alley, the indie bookstore in Vienna, Va., where I purchased the book. It's a great shop with an amazing selection of books.

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