An apocalyptic coming-of-age novel for millennials.
With themes of anti-consumerism, the immigrant experience, the meaninglessness of office jobs, and a darkly satirical tongue-in-cheek narrative style poking fun at the lackadaisical nature of our generation, Ling Ma manages to write a compelling story that still has a lot to say about the nature of our modern day society.
Candace is your everyday twenty-something who has little ambition but strives to do great at her fairly meaningless job, even when the world around her starts falling to pieces.
The more I think about this book the more brilliant I think it is. It is definitely a slower-paced read, and you want to take your time with it because the wit is seriously deadpan and easy to miss. At the same time, Ma is banging you over the head with her themes (in the best way): the zombie-like people cycling through rote, everyday tasks once they are infected with the fever? We didn't really need a fever for that. That is what we all do every day. Candace was one of them before they even existed and this story is her awakening, her slow realization of what is important and how to stand up and claim it.
Candace is a perfect representation of our generation. Her parents immigrated from China, so she grew up in the middle of two cultures—always feeling a bit of an outsider. She halfheartedly takes photographs for a blog, but doesn't have any real passion for anything. Everything in her life seems to have fallen in her lap, including her boyfriend and her job—she doesn't take action. She just lets things come to her.
The narrative moves back and forth between her pre-apocalyptic life and what happened as the fever began to spread, and her current situation, which has her traveling with a rag-tag band of survivors under the command and rules of one man.
I loved the nod to the anti-capitalist ideal of Romero's zombie film Dawn of the Dead brought into this book in its own completely and fiercely original way. This isn't fully realized until the end and it is so worth it.
The flashbacks give a lot of insight into how Candace became who she is. Her (breathtakingly dull) job, insights from her parents, interactions with her boyfriend—all of it sums up her connections with the world. But what do these connections mean? Do they really define us and tether us to reality? Who are we without them? And how can we redefine ourselves? These are some of the questions this book is asking.
A truly wonderful book that speaks directly about our modern age to the people who will soon be in charge of running the place.
My thanks to FSG for sending me a finished copy of this book to read and review.
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.