A mother pulls out the good plates from the cherry sideboard, sets the table, licks the empty plates with her fevered family, puts the plates away. Then she pulls them out again.

In Ling Ma’s novel, Severance, Shen Fever turns nearly everyone into zombies reenacting the daily rituals of their former lives.

This apocalyptic fever has spared Candace Chen, but survival for her means reenacting the daily rituals of her former job—outsourcing Bible print jobs to China—even as the printings grind to a halt, the office empties, and New York City's infrastructure crumbles around her.

She joins a caravan of fellow survivors heading west, and she is reminded of the westward journey her immigrant parents made when she was a child, of the gallon of milk they buy in an unimaginably vast grocery store.

Shen Fever isn’t humanity's chance for a fresh start, just a reboot for capitalist lust. Candace’s group scavenges Walmarts and the homes of the fevered, seeking not just survival tools but throw pillows, tablecloths, soap dishes. Her new leader: a diabolical IT guy named Bob. He tells them they'll go to Chicago. Well, he clarifies, just outside Chicago. "I am not living in the suburbs," one says. PLEASE READ

Severance by Ling Ma, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux