Devolution by Max Brooks.
4 out of 5. (320 pages, Published June 16th by Del Rey Books)
I have enjoyed Max Brooks’s work for years. I still remember picking up the Zombie Survival Guide at a local bookstore from the new paperback table. I knew nothing about it and was instantly hooked. Later, I devoured World War Z – it was so creative and well thought out. It felt very realistic. Too realistic. Truth they say can often be stranger than fiction. And perhaps that is just the case with Devolution, a ”true” account of life in the woods and an encounter with the legend, Bigfoot.
The book is told mostly through the journal entries made by Kate Holland. It is her story we are reading, directly from a diary that was recovered sometime after the novel’s events – though the fictional “Max Brooks” has thrown in a few “external sources,” in the guise of interviews he’s conducted with other people and excerpts from some Bigfoot-related books, for context. Having the bulk of the novel come directly from Kate’s diary helps the narrative have focus.
The author gives us this first hand account of life in a ‘smart’ community, where groceries are delivered by drone and smart-van, and everything is controlled by an app on your phone. The eco-village of Greenloop: It is everything a city dweller needs to pretend they are getting back to nature. Greenloop was indeed a paradise—until Mount Rainier erupted, leaving its residents truly cut off from the world, and utterly unprepared for the consequences. With no weapons and their food supplies dwindling, Greenloop’s residents slowly realized that they were in a fight for survival.
One of the great aspects of this book was the character development. As things become worse, people start to change, and this change was masterfully done by Mr Brooks. This is a deeper reading experience than you might initially think, going by the description alone. It’s not as simple as “Monsters come, people get killed horribly.” Focusing on a relatively small cast of characters, Devolution is much more of a character study than I expected it to be. How the characters interact with one another, the shifting of roles in their group dynamic, how their own personal histories inform their decision-making processes; all of these are carefully built up and feel utterly believable. The way the group copes (or in some cases, fails to cope) is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies or The Beach, with their circumstances forcing them to make difficult decisions in order to survive. “Devolution” refers too much more than just the savage creatures hunting them, with desperate times calling for extremely desperate measures. Its societal collapse, in microcosm. Thankfully, nobody is stockpiling all the toilet paper, otherwise it really would be too close to home.
One thing I continually appreciate about Brooks’ novels is the research and depth he puts into them. Devolution is no exception, and I enjoyed snippets such as the very in-depth instruction as to how to make a bamboo spear with a kitchen knife. I also thought, despite the narrower scope of the storyline, that the academic perspectives into the lifestyle and habits and chimps and monkeys provided a strong analogue as to the horror erupting around the Greenloop community.
This is an “edge-of-your-seat” novel that reads fast and keeps your attention. With a nuanced cast of characters, an engaging format and his usual enviable ability to craft a wholly believable story out of the fantastic, Max Brooks has breathed new life into one of the most enduring urban myths in the world. I thought about it long after it was finished.