BOOK REVIEW, SIGNING: New author Ma Ling hones ‘Apocalypse Office’ genre in dark comic novel

Candace Chen’s life is so much about chaos and loss that she finds solace and satisfaction in her job coordinating the sourcing of materials and production of Bibles. It’s a job that entails such minutiae as making sure there’s a supplier for the crushed gems which decorate a specific best-selling Bible even though many of the Asian countries supplying the materials have had to close because the crushed stones cause lung disease.

              But Candace, a millennial who immigrated from China when very young, works through such hurdles with aplomb, simply moving on, over and around any impediment. That’s one reason why she is chosen to stay at the company’s New York office as all the other workers flee, are dying or being turned in zombies by a virulent and unstoppable fungal infection called Shen Fever.

              Candace’s story—from her early losses to her unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy in a Manhattan that is rapidly falling apart is told in Severance, the first novel by Ling Ma.  

              Ma, who teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago, writes with a dry wit and keen sense of observation, shaping Severance into a darkly comic novel in a genre that might be best called Apocalypse Office and is unlike any other urban disaster books—or movies—I’ve ever come across. Ma, who has an MFA from Cornell University, was inspired in part by watching movies like those by George Romero, who was known for his satirical but grisly horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead” as well as TV series about Millennials like “Sex in the City.” But even more so her book was honed by working in an office and dealing with office politics which she describes as horrifying.

“The company I worked for was downsizing, and I started writing this book in the last few months of getting laid off—a kind of fun, apocalyptic short story,” she says about the novel’s origination. “I wanted to be destructive in some ways, and fiction can realize a lot of fantasies. I was kind of angry, but I also felt extremely liberated and extremely gleeful at the same time; it was a strange combination of glee and anger at once.”

Taking her severance and unemployment compensation, she continued to work on the story—as a sort of therapy. It was also an escape, just like Candace is first able to escape from New York and then from the cultist gang of survivors, freeing herself and going into the unknown.

Ifyougo:

What: Talk and signing

When: January 17 @ 6pm

Where: Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL

FYI: (773) 752-4381; semcoop.com

Author: Jane Simon Ammeson

Jane Simon Ammeson is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, food and personalities. She writes frequently for The Times of Northwest Indiana, Kentucky Living magazine, Edible Michiana, Lakeland Boating, Experience Michigan magazine, Indiana Monthly, Cleveland Magazine, Long Weekends Magazine, Food, Wine, Travel magazine and the Herald Palladium where she has a weekly food column. Her TouchScreenTravels include Indiana's Best. She also writes a weekly book review column for The Times of Northwest Indiana as well as food and travel, has authored 16 books including Lincoln Road Trip: The Back-road Guide to America's Favorite President was the winner of the Lowell Thomas Journalism Award in Travel Books, Third Place and also a Finalist for the 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the Travel category. Her latest books are America's Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness and Classic Restaurants of Northwest Indiana. Her other books include How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away with It, A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana and Murders That Made Headlines: Crimes of Indiana, all historic true crime as well Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Brown County, Indiana and East Chicago. Jane’s base camp is Stevensville, Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. Follow Jane at facebook.com/janesimonammeson; twitter.com/hpammeson; https://twitter.com/janeammeson1; twitter.com/travelfoodin, instagram.com/janeammeson/ and on her travel and food blog janeammeson.com and book blog: shelflife.blog/

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