📖: Ling Ma’s Severance (2018)
🍸: the city
Why this book?
Published in 2018, Severance is a novel about NYC resident Candance Chen who becomes one of the few survivors of the Shen Fever pandemic, caused by a flu-like virus initially detected in China.
Like Candace, I was living in NYC when COVID19 began to appear, so reading the novel’s portrayal of Shen Fever’s spread felt eerily prescient – from its descriptions of the public’s skepticism and confusion; to the shutdown of businesses; to the residents’ flight out of the city.
But what felt most unsettling about the book was its exploration of late-stage capitalism and its absurdities. In the novel, the virus turns people into zombies who perform repetitive, mind-numbing actions until they waste away. Is this a metaphor for what capitalism does to us – trapping us in an endless loop of work, production, consumption, and desire for more than what we already have?
One of the story’s details that stuck with me the most was Candace’s decision to outsource a manufacturing job to a Chinese factory, even though she knew that the job would cause real harm to the workers’ health. This made me reflect on how capitalism works like a trick mirror: by exploiting others in the global market, we think we gain an economic advantage. But participating in this capitalist exploitation also re-creates inequalities at home, widening a wealth gap that underpins a system of racial disparities. With Labor Day approaching, I’m thinking about my role in the global economy: what effect does my work have on others and how do I spend my money? Can it be possible for anyone to truly live outside of capitalism?
Why this drink?
As a toast to the novel’s setting in NYC, I am pairing Severance with a dry version of the Manhattan cocktail. I used bourbon instead of rye, and because white vs. red vermouth was used, I garnished with a lemon peel instead of a cherry. The 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth that I used aligns with the classic sweet Manhattan made with red vermouth.
2 oz bourbon
1 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
*for garnish: lemon peel
- combine the all ingredients in a mixing glass, and stir well with ice
- serve in a chilled glass, straining out the ice
- garnish with a lemon peel
*whiskey alternative: you may use a rye whiskey instead of bourbon for a drier, spicier taste.
*vermouth alternative: you may use red (sweet) vermouth to make a sweet version of this Manhattan cocktail. Or you may use a 50/50 blend of red and white vermouth to make a “Perfect” Manhattan.
*bitters alternative: you may use Angostura bitters instead of orange bitters. I chose orange bitters for a brighter, citrus-y taste.
*garnish alternative: if you are using sweet vermouth instead of dry vermouth, garnish with a maraschino cherry vs. lemon peel.
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
And check out these reviews to learn more about the book:
- ‘Severance’ Is the Novel of Our Current Moment—but Not for the Reasons You Think, by Jane Hu, The Ringer, May 18, 2020