“They all want to live ‘in harmony with nature’ before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious.”
The above quote really strikes the tone of this novel, written by Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’s son. Yes, that Mel Brooks). This isn’t Brooks’s first attempt at fiction; he has written two zombie novels (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) as well as a couple of Minecraft novels. I’m going to be completely honest; I don’t like zombie novels. To me, they all read the same. I will still read the occasional story to give the genre another chance, but I always leave unsatisfied. Even the stories that purport to do something different with zombies all feel the same to me when I read them. That’s a very long way of saying I skipped reading World War Z, and decided to write off Max Brooks as a “zombie novelist.”
That was until I saw the audiobook for Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre read by a talented full cast that includes Judy Greer, Max Brooks, Jeff Daniels, Nathan Fillion, Mira Furlan, Terry Gross, Kimberly Guerrero, Kate Mulgrew, Kai Ryssdal, & Steven Weber. The epistolary nature of the novel really lends itself to multiple voices, and there is no awkward narrator insertion during dialogue (such as an actor reading a piece of dialogue and having it followed up with the narrator saying “he said” or “she replied”). Judy Greer, whose voice we probably hear the most, does a great job at giving life to a changing character as her arc sweeps through the novel.
As for the novel itself, it concerns a group of individuals who decide to live in a small eco-community off the grid in the Pacific Northwest called Greenloop. They are extremely isolated, cut off from civilization. Their supplies are delivered by drone, and their smart homes are equipped with all of the latest gadgets and amenities. After Mount Rainier erupts, the group gets cut off from any means of escape, and to top it off, they are hunted by a family of Sasquatch.
The story is told through a series of documents collected by a journalist. The primary document is the diary of one of the still missing residents of Greenloop, Kate Holland. We are also treated to excerpts from interviews that the journalist conducts with Kate’s brother, a Forest Services officer, and experts in various fields. This ties the entire narrative together into a cohesive unit. At first, the journal entries cover introductions to characters and mundane aspects of life in the isolated community. After the eruption (and the subsequent arrival of our supernatural baddies), we are treated to a much more harrowing (and typically apocalyptic) narrative.
The arc of the main character, Kate, is something I truly enjoyed. For anyone that’s experiencing similar issues to our protagonist, you’ll find her growth as a character a triumph, something that will feel real and possible. The other characters are all fleshed out, though I found a few stereotypical characters as well, such as the tech guru and mastermind behind the Greenloop project who, as soon as disaster strikes, goes from a confident pep talker to a mess of indecision. One aspect of the characters that I found intriguing was the fact that they’re intellectuals with expertise in soft sciences who do not prepare at all for the realities of life outside of civilization. The unpreparedness is a huge aspect of the novel and directly drives the desperation in our plot, and it really highlights the important reality that is alluded to in the quote at the top of this review.
Having read this novel is a post-pandemic world, it is easy to feel the anxiety surrounding isolation, lack of supplies, and a breakdown of the social order. The uncertainty feels familiar, though that aspect has been blunted a bit by the two years since the start of the pandemic. I feel like reading this during the early months, pre-vaccine, would have brought out a much stronger fear response from me. Now, though, I find myself shaking my head at a lot of the characters’ mistakes, knowing full well that if I’d been in their situation, I’d have been as scared and misinformed as they were.
So next time you go camping, or when you’re driving down a lonely rural road at night, remember that the howl of a wild animal that you hear might just be a coyote, or it could also be a monster that comes barreling straight out of myth. Either way, make sure you’re prepared for anything.
Final Thoughts: A tight and tense horror novel that is a good read in a post-pandemic world, and deals with an apocalypse on a small scale to dramatic effect. Definitely worth picking up.
‘Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre‘ was published in 2020 by Del Rey Books.