Who knew that a series about corporate office culture and worker treatment would resonate so strongly with everyone?
Ben Stiller’s new series on Apple TV+, Severance, has been a fly-under-the-radar sleeper hit that just released its season finale. If you haven’t watched it, Severance initially poses a simple question: would you agree to a procedure that would “sever” your work life from your personal life? Because that’s exactly what Mark Scout did after the loss of his wife. There’s something appealing, after all, about surrendering the hours you spend at work to another version of yourself that has no memory of whatever grief or unhappiness you’re trying to escape.
Except that’s not quite how it works. Mark doesn’t realize this at first, because his regular self and his work self (his “outie” and his “innie”) have little knowledge of each other. Mark knows he works at Lumon, but he doesn’t know what he does at Lumon. He knows he has coworkers, but he doesn’t know who they are. He goes into the elevator, the severance protocol is activated, and he “awakens” back in the elevator when the work day is finished.
The Mark inside Lumon only knows…work. He doesn’t sleep: his outie sleeps. He is activated and deactivated in the elevator, and knows nothing of his outie self or his personal life. It is forbidden to take any messages outside of the basement floor they work on. If they make mistakes, they are sent to the “break room” for remediation. The only reading material they’re allowed is the employee handbook, which reads like a cult worship scripture devoted to Lumon’s founder. The workers are infantilized and given silly little prizes for making quota doing work that none of them understand.
Severance slowly unravels the mystery of why the severance procedure was established in the first place, how far a reach Lumon really has, and what secrets Mark and his coworkers will uncover about the company and about themselves. It is a fascinating, darkly funny, and deeply unsettling look at corporate office culture and values, as well as how workers are treated and viewed by the companies that consider them “family.”
The tone and exploration of this show aligns perfectly with a number of books that fall in the corporate horror, thriller, sci-fi, and dark comedy categories. These books also question the use of company loyalty tactics, the sheer monotony of doing repetitive work that appears to have very little meaning, and the unease that grows when one realizes just how pervasive a company’s hold has on you, your life, and even your own values.
Here are ten books like Severance to keep you satiated until season two.
10 Books Like Severance
The Corporation by J.F. Gonzalez
“Welcome to the corporate financial family.” Michelle Dowling is ready for that welcome, because she’s been waiting for a job like this her whole life: a high five figure salary. Great benefits and perks. She’s ready to work herself to the bone to keep this new financial consultant job. What Michelle didn’t understand, though, is how far a reach her new company has — a reach that extends into her personal life and beyond.
Company by Max Barry
Stephen Jones has started his new job at Zephyr Holdings, and he already has a few questions. Why are the sales reps using self-help books as their manuals? Why does the receptionist make twice as much as anyone else to do very little? Where is the CEO? What do they actually do? Stephen is struck with a desperate need to know, and despite his coworker’s warnings, does his own digging into his new company’s bizarre company policies — only to uncover a darkness he wasn’t expecting.
All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris
Ellice Littlejohn has a great job as a corporate attorney in Atlanta, and a great relationship with her boss (with side benefits). All of that comes screeching to a halt when she finds her boss and sometimes lover dead in his office from a gunshot to the head. Ellice cannot get involved with this because she has secrets of her own, but people are already beginning to gossip, and she, the company’s lone Black attorney, is promoted to take her white boss’s job. Ellice has to uncover the truth, and discovers the secretive underbelly of her company in the process. If you want books like Severance but with a murder mystery angle, this will be a perfect fit.
The Consultant by Bentley Little
CompWare’s merger has fallen through, and they’re in serious trouble. To uplift their public image, they hire a consultant to review the company and give their business strategy a makeover. Except the consultant the firm sends over is a little weird. Creepy. Asks inappropriate questions. As time goes on, the consultant somehow gains more power than he has any right to: changes in office protocol, new cameras all over the building; calling employees at home in the middle of the night, showing up at their front doors. Those who defy him are fired or worse. CompWare employees have bigger problems on their hands than a failed merger.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
When Lena Johnson’s grandmother died, the last thing she expected was having to drop out of college to help her family tackle the mountain of debt left behind by the family matriarch. To support her family, she takes a job that’s almost too good to be true: high paying, no out of pocket medical expenses, and a free place to live in Lakewood, Michigan. And it is too good to be true. Because Lena discovers that the program she’s in, which initially asked for nothing more than medical research participants for dementia cures and happiness pills, is far, far more nefarious than that, and accrues major consequences for participants.
The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng
Kelly is on her way to a friend’s art show in Chicago when she opens a door and steps through to her Michigan hometown instead. Her life as an artist, as she knew it, is gone, because her brain is now filled with 12 years of memories in a different life. Kelly is married to a man she barely knew in high school, in a life she doesn’t recognize. In her attempt to get back to her own life, she becomes suspicious of this new husband’s job at a tech startup. Of the way he denies fights she remembers them having. Could he and his job have anything to do with Kelly’s shifting reality?
Personal Days by Ed Park
The office workers are a little concerned with the recent rash of layoffs that came unexpectedly. They’re also going a little stir crazy with the work environment: the pervasiveness of office culture, the meaningless corporate jargon, the office dramas and romances, the monotony and at times absurdity of their day-to-day office lives. Moreover, an undercurrent of unease grows as the layoffs continue in a job none of them are sure they even want. This is a great and darkly funny look into what corporate office culture feels like today.
Inhuman Resources by Pierre Lamaitre
Alain Delambre is 57. He has been unemployed for four years, and he’s desperate for work. The tides turn for him when a major company grants him an interview to be their HR manager, and Alain will do anything to secure this job. Even if it means participating in the recruitment test: role play a hostage scenario. It would have gone fine if Alain hadn’t found out that he was being set up to fail. The hostage scenario quickly turns real in light of what Alain discovers, which may lead to tragic consequences.
#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar
Anya St. Clair has worked incredibly hard for the success she has as a fashion editor today. She has nearly everything she could want, except for one thing: the friendship of her coworker Sarah Taft. Sarah has it all: wealth, style, beauty. When Sarah and Anya are each other’s competition for a promotion, Anya’s determination to befriend and beat Sarah for the role grows. So much, in fact, that she may just have to become Sarah to get what she wants.
The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
It was just supposed to be a team building challenge: an escape room inside an elevator. Or so the four Wall Street finance coworkers thought. Then the lights go out, and they discover how high the stakes of this “game” are — life or death. The game digs into their deepest secrets, revealing the things they did to climb to the top. The question is, who will kill to survive?
For more books like Severance, you might like these 5 Books About Surreal Offices. For an SFF spin, try 12 of the Best Workplace Fantasy Novels. And if you’d rather feel a little more optimistic about the office, pick up these Office Romance Books.