Written by Max Brooks
Published by Del Rey
In Max Brooks’ newest book, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, a small micro-community of intellectuals living the Eco-Green dream via a Levittown-esque planned community called Greenloop, become isolated in their hi-tech enclave after the eruption of Mt. Rainer cuts them off from society, a mere 90 miles from Seattle.
As the group realize that they cannot call out or leave to get help, loud howls from deep within the forest alert them that they are not alone.
The story is told via interviews with various family members, old news clips and a sit-down with a member of the United States National Park Service who discovered the massacre at Greenloop, all interspersed with the found journal of Greenloop resident & main character, Kate Holland.
This helps to establish what happened to the community from September 22nd – October 17th.
Like Brooks’ World War Z, Devolution uses the construct of the “monster” as a way to propel the story forward but the real narrative comes from how much our concept of society breaks down the moment a catastrophic event comes into play.
In this sense, a ritzy high-end community of people who truly believe themselves to be beyond the common people, struggle to conquer the most basic of needs once Siri/Alexa is gone from their lives.
Looking to their de facto leader, Greenloop founder Tony Durant, for guidance and finding nothing there, the small group of survivors attempt to maintain the life that they know only to find out that in order to make it out alive, they have to adapt and change.
As one character, Mostar, a survivor of ethnic cleansing says to Kate when everything goes to hell, “This is when, as the saying goes, adversity introduces us to ourselves”.
The violence and destruction that the eruption of Mt. Rainer (coupled with the near constant attacks perpetrated by the Sasquatch group) does to the group is not just physical but psychological as well, and as Kate’s journal shows, the emotionally fragmented group are barely able to deal with it. It’s too much for a lot of them: Isolation, the loss of freedom of movement, the numbing realization that the food supply is low, and the idea that they are left alone and fighting for their lives is so surreal that it does not compute.
This concept seems strangely familiar today.
Note: To be completely honest and transparent here, there is something truly disconcerting about reading a book that you think is going to be about a horde of killer Sasquatches, only to realize that it has more in common with the pandemic that you are currently living through, with similarities so striking that it adds to the level of fear and anxiety you are already experiencing.
Yes, you read that right, a book about a murderous Bigfoot (feet?) tribe feels horribly familiar to life with the Coronavirus.
But I digress…Back to the review.
This microcosm of society mirrors a lot of what we see today. People who pretend to act as if their morals lean toward the idea of collectivism (we are all here for each other) when in reality we are as individualistic (Fuck you, you’re not me) as the most hardline militia member hiding in a bunker (or protesting unmasked in the streets) and when that absolute truth invades the faux utopia, the group splinters, with some pretending nothing is happening, while others band together in order to survive. It is within this duality of consciousness that brings out the best and worst in all of them. There may be murderous beasts lurking outside their community, hellbent on making each of them into lunch, but humanity has a way of screwing itself at every turn and ultimately helping those animals out.
We really are the worst sometimes.
There’s naturally going to be a lot of comparisons between Devolution and World War Z. After-all, both books are a patchwork of interviews with Brooks being the quiet Third Person Omniscient narrator who pieces them all together for cohesion. But while WWZ spans the entirety of the globe as a pandemic spreads (Jeezus, another familiarity) Devolution is situated in a tiny spec inside a primeval forest and is, well, less epic feeling.
With such similar styles of storytelling, that may be an issue for fans of WWZ who are looking for the same kind of expansive excitement, but while this is a more secluded & subdued environment, the claustrophobia & tension (not to mention the impatience with a bunch of tech/green bubble assholes getting their shit together) leads to a tensely scripted morality play/commentary on our inability to deal with discomfort (i.e.-OPEN THE STATE! I NEED A HAIRCUT!) when faced with something we cannot get our minds around…like killer Sasquatches (or a microscopic virus).
As for the book itself, the diary/interview format can leave a lot to be desired in a lesser writer’s hands, but Brooks has manages to create a tight, fast story with an ending that feels just right as certain characters find their true selves in the midst of fear and adversity. And while I might have wished that Brooks wrote this story in a more conventional way and fleshed out characters/situations more fully, it wouldn’t have worked for the narrative he went for and that is okay. The style may not fully work for some readers, but in this case, the starkness and confining oppression mirrors the characters’ feelings and their isolation and truly resonates for the right reader.
In this case, the right audience would be those locked down in their homes while a pandemic rolls across the world.