In this, the early days of the Corona Virus, a narrative of the spread from China of a fictional but deadly illness,—Shen Fever—might be just a tad too relevant.
“In its initial stages, Shen Fever is difficult to detect. Early symptoms include memory lapse, headaches, disorientation, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold, patients are often unaware they have contracted Shen Fever. They may appear functional and are still able to execute rote, everyday tasks. However, these initial symptoms will worsen.
Later-stage symptoms include signs of malnourishment, lapse of hygiene, bruising on the skin, and impaired motor coordination. Patients’ physical movements may appear more effortful and clumsy. Eventually, Shen Fever results in a fatal loss of consciousness. ”
The book is Severance by Ling Ma, published in 2018 before the current concern for the Corona virus.
Ling Ma’s debut novel, Severance, transcends any typical classification. It is part satirical office drama, part immigrant narrative, part millennial bildungsroman—with a dash of zombie apocalypse. Severance chronicles the life of Candace Chen, an obedient worker bee who is one of the last people alive in New York City after the Shen Fever strikes. The “fevered” who populate the city aren’t your classic teeth-gnashing, skin-peeling zombies. Instead, victims of the Fever are reduced to creatures of habit—they adhere mindlessly to their everyday grinds until they quite literally work themselves to death. — From The Paris Review.
Note that Severance is also structurally a shuffling of narrative events going from office politics to “zombie” encounters, from China to New York to Chicago, contrasting New York urban style to rural Chinese poverty. In the beginning the diverse band of office workers use a failing Google to learn how to survive. It’s interesting to compare the pre-Shen lives of these survivors to their survival activities, and then to contrast their lives to those who have succumbed to the fever.
Is there hope? Is adapting to a routine, hope?