Monday, June 15, 2020

Severance | Lefsetz Letter

Severance: A Novel

I found out about it through “Rolling Stone.”

The last three episodes of the second season of “Ramy” are ASTOUNDING!

The second season does not start off like the first. There isn’t as much humor, there’s a lot of religion. I was wondering if I’d written about the series too soon.

And then…

There’s the episode about Ramy’s father.

The one about his uncle, Naseem.

And then a long one about Ramy, where the loose ends are tied up, or not.

Now Felice has a problem with Ramy, the character. Because on many levels he’s a loser. No, more of a screw-up. I don’t remember this in any sitcom previously, where the main character creates problems but is not ultimately lovable. Doesn’t everybody love Raymond? Everybody does not love Ramy.

And so many issues are addressed. Love. What is it, who should you do it with? Can you lead with your head instead of your heart? And then there’s timing and information and…it’s hard to lock on and sustain.

Which brings me to Marc Maron’s podcast with Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a must-listen!


I’ve got a problem with Maron in that he does not prepare for his interviews, as a result he asks basic questions of guests that even a casual fan would know the answer to. After all, Jerry Seinfeld has been in the public eye for over three decades, he’s been scrutinized, laundered…

But ultimately this podcast becomes a conversation. It’s just not information, and that is very interesting.

Also interesting is when Maron says he gave up his show on IFC, because it just wasn’t going anywhere. The outlet was not going to increase the budget, the audience was not shooting up, why do it?

This is what the system doesn’t understand, that the paradigm changes.

Every comedian should aspire to a sitcom. The only problem is we no longer live in a three/four network world. You can make it and no one can watch it. You can put it on your resume but it won’t buy you much.

Kind of like a book. I’m constantly dunned to write a book. Sure, like a comedian with a sitcom I can promote it as evidence of gravitas, but no one is more out of touch with the digital world than book publishers. But even worse, the number of people who read books, well, let’s say the number of readers per almost all books is positively anemic! And it takes so long to do. You get an advance, you take a year or two or five or ten to then write a book that almost no one reads. I hit send and I reach a huge multiple of what almost all writers of books reach. But since it’s free and it’s online, it gets no respect. Except from readers. You see publishing is a club. And the world today is littered with clubs that only mean something to their members. Woo-hoo, you’re a member of Soho House! Yippie-ei-o tayey! If you think it’s exclusive, you don’t know with a connection anybody can get in. But this is how people measure themselves, by these phony markers placed in a book no one is reading. Kind of like likes. They’re meaningless.

But the podcast is interesting because of Jerry. Who is definitely different. He’d definitely on the spectrum somewhere, albeit high functioning. But he did the work when others didn’t. He wrote when the others were hanging out and doing drugs. Richard Lewis made a career out of being unprepared, winging it on stage, but those who’ve followed in his footsteps…kinda like Maron himself, that’s what’s wrong with his comedy, that’s what’s wrong with his execrable intros to his podcasts!

He wasn’t gonna have me on anyway. He’s already pissed about something else I wrote. Who cares, like I need to say I was on Marc Maron? Whoop-de-doo!

Not that I have a problem with the man. The one time we met he was cordial. But that’s personal, and this is business.

But most people don’t have Hulu so they can’t even watch “Ramy,” never mind having the outlet and pulling it up. There’s too much product. But we’re all looking for a recommendation, but we trust almost none of the traditional infrastructure, it’s hype.

So why did I trust “Rolling Stone”?

Well, I didn’t.

Well, I guess I did.

Anyway, “Rolling Stone” raised the price to $70 a year. For twelve issues. That’s insane! Especially when it’s included in Apple News+ for ten bucks a month, along with “New York” which essentially costs the same, at least with digital access.

So I can rationalize my ten bucks a month for Apple News+. Even though I don’t love the format.

And if you’re coming out every month you’re inherently irrelevant. In an era where this morning’s news is history this afternoon…you’ve inherently taken yourself out of the discussion. And the truth is “Rolling Stone” has a very active website, with some articles of note, but there are too many articles, what ever happened to curation? But it’s even worse over at “Billboard,” an endless spew of irrelevant stuff written by those who can’t write. But I get that as part of Apple News+ too, but I never subscribed, “Billboard” is an alternative universe for those not really in the game. Then again, it prints charts the labels love, because they are inherently manipulated, if it was just streams, why would you need “Billboard”? Then again, how interesting is this news, isn’t it supposed to be about the music? And if anyone thinks today’s music is the heartbeat of the culture, they haven’t watched television.

But I’m talking about a book.

Yes, “Rolling Stone” put the idea in my mind. So I looked “Severance” up, and it got uber-good reviews, from respectable outlets.

So I downloaded the sample chapter to my Kindle. Try before you buy, it’s the only way to do business…isn’t that how dope dealers work?

And I’d be lying if I told you I loved the sample, but I’d come off a bad book and “Severance” was my best option and…

This was no Rufi Thorpe. Ling Ma had gotten an MFA, and you could tell. Because the writing was somewhat stilted.

And I was pissed I bought it until about halfway through, when the book, the characters, the situation, came alive.

Yes, it’s a pandemic book. And what is so fascinating is despite being two years old, it presages the Covid-19 era. The virus is different…you don’t get it from people and you don’t die soon…but is your allegiance to your job or your life? And who do you look to lead you? And what happens when the institutions decline and hit their demise?

You’re on your own buddy.

But Candace yearns for connection and hooks up with others who’ve survived. Led by Bob, an authoritarian. There’s always someone who takes control, do you become subservient or stand on your principles or…there are no clear answers.

And what are the consequences of breaking the rules?

You go through school playing a game, and then you graduate and there is no game, even though many try to construct one. Maybe you’ve got to bend the rules to get ahead, even break them! Maybe the penalties for screwing up are not that severe. Maybe those in control of the game are clueless.


Most people are not famous. Even if they think they are based on their social media follower numbers. Sure, the celebrities are no longer as big as they think they are, as big as they used to be, I mean why in hell do we listen to actors, who recite others’ lines, but that does not mean you’re the new star, even though you may think you are.

No, you’re probably overeducated and thrilled that you have this boring irrelevant job. In Candace’s case, printing Bibles.

And choices…do you get picked up for the one night stand or do you stay at home out of the fray missing out…

So once you get into it, “Severance” is a whole world, you will no longer think about this world, the one you’re inhabiting every day. It’s like Candace is a good friend, you’re continuing to learn more about her, her parents, her upbringing, her relationships, as she tries to figure out how to navigate life. Just like you, even if you don’t want to admit it to yourself. The world is littered with lawyers who hate their jobs, they went to law school because their parents told them to, got jobs, and now this is their life, banging out the hours, they never questioned the system, to their disadvantage.

And there’s wisdom:

“It was the anonymity. He wanted to be unknown, unpossessed by others’ knowledge of him. That was freedom.”

That’s why I live in the big city, nobody knows who I am, and in Los Angeles everybody’s so self-centered they don’t care who I am. And that’s just how I like it. I’ve lived in small communities where you’re instantly labeled and judged and cannot get out of the hole they’ve put you in. Furthermore, I’m not the usual suspect. I don’t hone off my edges to make friends, then stab them behind their back. I’m upfront about everything, but if we connect, I’m as loyal as they get.

“When other people are happy, I don’t have to worry about them. There is room for my happiness.

BINGO! I’m always worrying about other people’s happiness. I can’t relax until everybody’s taken care of, and when they are, there’s room for me. It’s kinda like Ramy’s dad… Farouk tells Ramy he has to live in the future so Ramy and his sister and their mother can live in the present. Reminded me of my dad…it ain’t easy being responsible for a household.

“Evan took special pleasure in teasing Ashley, the way a schoolboy might make fun of a girl he crushed on.”

I don’t know why this is, but it’s true. I saw it in the “Rugrats” once. Chuckie or Tommy kicked his crush on the playground. You don’t know how to show your affection, so you make trouble, just trying to gain their attention, just trying to get close.

“New York has a way of forgetting you.”

The city lives on, you are forgotten.

“I have always lived in the myth of New York more than in its reality. It is what enabled me to live there for so long, loving the idea of something more than the thing itself.”

You’re young. You move to New York. It’s difficult. And eventually…you move on, to where the living is easier.

Kinda like L.A. But L.A. is a giant suburb, so…you used to be able to move to the San Fernando Valley, but now even that is becoming expensive, so…maybe you do leave.

The country is reopening as Covid-19 is flaring and you don’t know whether to be scared or elated. You don’t know whether to live your life or stay home. And one thing is for sure, there is no leadership, no one is truly in charge. And then there are those convinced they know the way, who refuse to wear masks, who refuse to adhere to safety measures…in “Severance,” some of those die too.

So, the book won’t instantly hook you and wow you, like “Knockout Queen,” but when it’s over, it’ll stick with you, you’ll have a hard time reintegrating into regular life. And what more can you ask from art?


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