Believe it or not, Max Brooks’ sensational new novel of anthropological horror, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, is about the real world.
“It basically came out of the idea that we are racing headlong to build a society for comfort and not for resilience,” Brooks says. “And in order to have those comforts, we’re gutting all the safeguards that previous generations worked so hard to build for us.”
“We are racing headlong to build a society for comfort and not for resilience.”
After the global zombie apocalypse of his bestselling World War Z, Brooks now focuses his catastrophic lens on a microcosm of inevitable collapse. In Devolution, a small group of highly civilized individuals has created Greenloop, a perfectly fabricated environmentalist utopia in the woods of Washington state, in the shadow of Mount Rainier’s dormant volcano. When the mountain erupts, the community of Greenloop—now cut off from contact with the rest of the world—utterly breaks down.
Then a family of sasquatch drops in. And they’re hungry.
Greenloop goes to the very heart of our era’s technological hubris. Brooks describes the organization as the brainchild of Steve Jobs and Timothy Treadwell—the famous “Grizzly Man” who was mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear. “At the height of the Iraq War, I had an epiphany,” Brooks says. “Americans are dying, a whole country is going down in flames, the world order is collapsing. A couple of generations ago, our country’s best and brightest would be working on trying to solve that problem. And instead, we get a turtlenecked P.T. Barnum crowing about how the greatest new invention is the ability to watch ‘The Office’ on our cell phones.”
Brooks is effusive about what he has learned from his parents, Hollywood icons Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, who were part of the generation that confronted the existential threats of the early and mid-20th century, and who imparted to him their values. “The stories I grew up with were Great Depression and World War II stories,” Brooks says. “They were about people digging inside themselves, finding the grit and courage they didn’t know they had. Because they had to.”
That noble American generation is a far cry from Devolution’s characters Tony and Yvette Durant, the charismatic leaders of Greenloop. The Durants epitomize what Brooks sees as our civilization’s delusional belief in technology’s capacity to save us. “You have this divorce of the intelligentsia from the real world,” he says. “The problem with a lot of the environmental movement is that it comes from urbanites who have no idea how the natural world actually works. They have their own version of it, reliant on a kind of technology that allows you to have it all, no sacrifice, no compromise. That is so American.”
The novel’s narrative is framed by a scientific researcher’s investigation into the mysterious occurrences at Greenloop, guided by entries from a found journal that belonged to one of its inhabitants, Kate Holland, and rounded out by interviews with witnesses of the site after the massacre. “I’ve always loved forensic horror,” Brooks says. “For me, the scariest moment of Aliens is when they get to the colony, even before they’re attacked. Devolution is a new version of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia. To me, that’s very terrifying.”
The oldest and youngest characters at Greenloop are Mostar, an elderly woman who survived the late 20th-century Balkan Wars, and Palomino, a girl adopted by her two mothers from a Bangladeshi orphanage. Mostar and Palomino seem to be the only characters prepared for the horror that arrives at Greenloop. Brooks agrees: “Exactly. They know how bad things can get, as opposed to everyone else who is living in a bubble and simply can’t believe it can get that bad.”
Kate’s husband, Dan, is an urban-bubble guy: no direction, addicted to the internet, a huge chip on his shoulder. Brooks admits that he grew up inside a similar version of that bubble in west Los Angeles, even with all his parents’ powerful stories from the past. “It took me a long time to find out what the world was really like,” he says. When he finally did, he was ready to imagine how easily the bubble could burst.
“It took me a long time to find out what the world was really like.”
Reading about Kate’s (d)evolution into a person who confronts the ravenous sasquatch on her own terms is so exciting, so devastating, so delightful, it doesn’t even matter if Bigfoot really exists. By the way, Brooks says, the jury is still out on that question.
“I’m just exorcising my own fears,” he says. “I’m scared of zombies, and I had a lot of questions. If there was a real zombie plague, how would it really go down? And if Sasquatch was real, how would it exist? I’m always just answering my own questions.”