I’ve never been a fan of the myths of Bigfoot. Sure, I enjoyed those beef stick commercials where the hikers play pranks on the dumb sasquatch, but other than that I didn’t know that I would want to experience anything else featuring the mythical monster.
That was, of course, until author Max Brooks brought us Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre.
Released June 16, Max Brooks revives the narrative style he used in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War to tell the tale of a small high-tech village that is located in the wilderness of Mount Rainier in the State of Washington. Though physically cut off from the rest of the world, the members of the community live their daily lives still connected to society via internet. The only contact they have with the outside world when not traveling to Seattle is in the form of drone or driverless vans that deliver weekly groceries and other supplies. Everything changes when Mount Rainier erupts. The village is cut from society entirely. The fate of the community is discovered later when the protagonist’s journal is uncovered and given to a journalist.
I won’t give an overall score, but I will give three things I liked about the book and then three things that I didn’t like. You can make your own decision to read the book based on those six opinions. There may be light spoilers, but I’ll make sure not to include anything related to the ending of the novel.
- The narrative style of Brooks is unique. In his prior zombie book, the overall narrator was a journalist that traveled around the world interviewing survivors of the Zombie War and having them retell how they survived. In Devolution, it’s scaled down massively to three different resources. Primarily, Kate Holland’s journal entries serve as the vehicle for the story. Then there is the interview with Holland’s brother, Frank McCray. Finally, there’s the interview with Senior Ranger Josephine Schell. There are some minor texts referenced, but those are the chief three sources Brooks uses to craft his fiction. As a journalist, I thoroughly enjoyed how Brooks weaved all those sources together to create an intricate character driven book.
- The characters. I won’t be ruining the plot of the book by saying that most, if not all, of the villagers die by the end of the book. I mean, that’s why the title says, “Sasquatch Massacre.” You sort of know going into it that most if not all the character’s lives would be up for grabs. Having said that, by the time the first death does come, I’m fully emotionally invested in each character. Each cannon fodder… I mean character… has a rich backstory and/or story arc that gets some screen time. The main character, Kate, is the one that shines though. She and her husband Dan come out to the village on the advice of her brother, Frank McCray. Kate’s marriage is not in great shape at the beginning of the story and Kate herself isn’t a very strong-willed character. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that things are different by the time the climactic battle occurs between humans and beasts.
- The slow boil. You know that old saying about “a watched pot never boils”? Well, that’s this book. Brooks manages to spend almost half the book slowly developing the relationships between the villagers and drop subtle hints at what’s about to happen. And when the conflict finally starts to bubble over and consume the pot, Brooks still manages to deconstruct slowly and painfully everything he spent 100 plus pages tearing down. And I enjoyed every moment of it. It’s like an exceptionally long and terrifying roller coaster filled with that slow tension and then the drop. And then the tension starts to build right back up as the villagers try to defend themselves.
- The narrative style. I know I said that this was also one of my likes, but it’s also kind of a buzzkill at times. Since the journal is written by Kate, we know that she’s one of the survivors for most of the book. So, when there’s a journal entry with a perilous cliffhanger for Kate, the reader knows that she won’t die because Kate is the one writing what happens and obviously can’t write something when she’s dead.
- Additional sources. Other than the interviews of Senior Ranger Schell and Kate’s brother, I felt like some of the additional sources often broke the narrative for me. Often, I’d stop reading for a moment and re-enter my own world instead of focusing on Kate’s. While the two major sources were used to add tension, I felt that the other sources broke the narrative for me.
- The ending. Without spoiling anything, I felt the ending…well… ended too quickly. With all that slow boiling of the characters and then the slow and painful sasquatch siege, I felt that the ending was stunted.
Overall, I loved Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre and would recommend this book to all horror/monster genre readers. It’s one of those books that you didn’t think you needed to read until you’re actually reading it.