“Knowing you saw something is different from knowing what you saw.”Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, by Max Brooks
Sasquatch. Bigfoot. Their Asian counterpart, the Yeti. These giant ape-like creatures have been mainstays in tons of folklore and urban legend for hundreds of years. For cryptozoologists, they are right up there with the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra.
While many works of fiction centered around Bigfoot, Harry and the Hendersons being a big one, it’s the gigantic stack of documentaries and essays about the creature’s existence that it is most prevalent in our culture’s zeitgeist. I can still remember how instantly terrified I was of venturing into forests after first seeing an airing of the Patterson-Gimlin film, wherein the imposing monster was caught marching by trees on grainy footage in the 60’s. And I saw it in the 90’s, long after the tape was widely criticized.
When I first heard about Max Brooks releasing Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, released in May 2020, it sounded like such a perfect marriage between subject matter and author. His previous work, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, both take on a faux-nonfiction style, relaying personal accounts and expert interviews from characters in an objective manner. This allowed readers to engross themselves in what a zombie outbreak would truly be like, rather than the more trope-heavy horror stories.
It was this same documentary style that he brought to Devolution. The book opens with an unnamed writer (perhaps, a fictional Max Brooks?) describing the volcanic eruption of Mt. Rainier in Washington state. When that isolates a small eco-centric community named Greenloop from the rest of society in the weeks that follow, the residents are eventually discovered to have been massacred. Amongst the bloody mess is a journal of Kate Holland, a resident of Greenloop. She had been journaling at her therapist’s insistence, and ended up providing a first-hand account of encountering the troupe of ape-like creatures that terrorized their community of six homes. At the time of publication, Kate and one other resident are still missing.
When buying it, I opted for the audiobook format. Max’s World War Z had an all-star cast to create unique voices for each character, and Devolution was given the same treatment. This made for a very compelling listen, playing it every chance I got until completion.
Kate’s journal take up a good 80% of the overall narrative, while other experts and even Kate’s brother make up the remainder. I’ll keep from spoiling anything further from here on out, but I will say that it did surprise me how blatant the unnamed writer was from the get-go in stating the types of creatures we would see. Even the title of the book lays it out. And yet, when they are first properly introduced in the journal narrative, a true sense of dread for the characters within sets in.
Speaking about that first encounter, it is a bit of a grind to get there. This is a slow-burn plot… but, that’s okay. The tension builds where we know a massacre will inevitably play out, so the community’s in-fighting and squabbling before they know the true stakes at risk feels especially hair-raising. Whichever incidents or behaviors Kate doesn’t have an answer to is generally provided some colour by the various experts that are interviewed between chapters. And when blood gets drawn, this book doesn’t hold back. Gore, dismemberment, Max plays in his familiar horror sandbox well here. I do have a bit of a gripe regarding just how Kate is able to cope with all the chaos and terror while continuing to journal but Max does such a great job at making most of the other circumstances and natural elements feel so grounded.
There are several themes at play throughout, and you won’t miss them. Max is particularly harsh on the modern way of life – drone deliveries, ‘sustainable living,’ suburbia, even academia. In terms of the core conflict, Man VS Nature, that is literally played out as two factions pit against one another.
While the themes found in Devolution can feel as heavy-handed as Bigfoot himself at times, I found it to be very much worth my time. The world-building and dedication to authenticity truly elevated what could have been a run-of-the-mill monster story. This is one I would recommend to anyone who wants to feel that spark of “Oh wait, maybe Bigfoot is real” again.
In other news, it has been more difficult than ever to get some creative writing in. Adulting and life stuff getting very much in the way, but it’s not for lack of trying! No other queries or submissions out in slush piles anymore. All my efforts, other than the occasional blog post, is on my debut novel. I’ll provide more of an update on that later.
Keep turning the page,
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