Mike’s Book Report: Devolution (2020)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, By Max Brooks

The perfect metaphor/antidote to 2020. Well-meaning people set out to change the world, lessen their foot print, and revel in their own brainy viewpoint. Only to be horrifically outdone by the unplanned mysteries of mother nature and her largely uncaring and brutish ways. Devolution is exists in a very real space with very real consequences. It’s everything that 2020 has offered. From the hopefully earnest to the horrifically primal. 

Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, understandably and purposefully sticks with what he knows: fast paced horror with a health dose of social editorializing. In his fifth full length novel Brooks does exactly what he’s always set out to do. Create a fun melange of horror and society’s discerning and collective look in the mirror. In Devolution, Brooks manufactures a hyper-privledged community daintily parked at the foothills of the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Ranier

Foodies, academics, beatnicks, and the ecologically minded all assemble to become the Greenloop community.  A handful of houses and a common house are serviced by Amazon drones and cutting edge environmentally friendly technology.  Sort of 1975’s Ecotopia meets Tik Tok. The well meaning community is aggressively planned in the most thoughtful way that creates the lightest touch on the natural environment.  The Greenloop community has considered every last detail, except for the natural environment. 

Fangoria! Woo!
Greenloop’s best laid plans.

Devolution follows the travails of resident Kate Holland through the “found footage” nature of her diary/journal. The book, narrated by her brother, uses a fun device where the story is told through Kate’s journal entries, interviews with National Park Service employees, cryptozoological experts, and even a cameo from famed NPR talk host Terry Gross. Short chapters, each opened with a prescient “In Search of…” quote, coupled with an expeditious back/forth between Kate’s world view and those who had the opportunity to retrospectively speculate about Greenloop’s Sasquatch encounters, keep the book moving at a frenetic pace. 

For those in the know, Mt. Ranier sits in the Cascade mountain range amidst the most volcanically volatile areas in the world. The Ring of Fire eventually comes to bear and effectively upends the entire community’s handpicked ecological perfection. In other words, all is well and good as long as the Amazon drones keep coming, but once they don’t the wheels fall off, but quick. As Greenloop, Kate, and her dopey husband, Dan, begin to deal with the ash fall from Mt. Ranier’s eruptions and earthquakes, they’re also beset with a very combative tribe of bigfoot, or rather bigfeet. Unfortunately, because the book focuses on Kate’s view of the world, Greenloop’s residents are not all given equal deference and only a handful of the characters are fully developed and appreciated. 

Caught squarely between ecological and technological utopia and the most base and ancient motives, Greenloop is forced to contend with volcanic ash, impending winter, and a violent and relentless tribe of Sasquatch. Each community member’s true self comes to the surface as the crisis unfolds. Each has a job to do and each has a sacrifice to make in order to be able to stave off the multiple incursions that have disrupted their perfect neighborhood.

Think of George Will meets Jim Thompson. It’s tight and economical, but simultaneously compelling and thoughtful. Brooks displays the tradeoffs, the best laid plans, and the passive assumptions about mother nature’s true intentions. Devolution is tight, fast, and provocative.  By positing the possibility that Sasquatch may actually be lurking right on the other side of that Doug-fir, and pairing it with a catastrophe as a grand as the Poseidon Adventure, Brooks tells the perfect campfire story that keeps the Bigfoot mythos alive and well. 

Devolution is available everywhere! ISBN: 1984826786

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