Civil society is always fragile. When it collapses under violent threat, its citizens inevitably reveal their truest selves. With his groundbreaking first novel, World War Z, Max Brooks adapted this timeless truth—the essence of The Iliad, King Lear, War and Peace, etc.—on a global scale (with zombies). In Devolution, the author gives it another go, this time in microcosm.
Greenloop is a would-be environmental utopia (with all the modern amenities) established by a bunch of well-heeled city folks in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest forest. The volcano of Mount Rainier is sleeping nearby, along with a family of sasquatch. Rainier wakes up, and so does Bigfoot. Next stop: Greenloop.
The personnel of Greenloop is the ultimate catalog of urbanite hubris, idealism, cluelessness and dormant heroism. Moral fiber hits rock bottom in the character of Tony, the founder of the community, a charismatic Grizzly Man type whose phony charisma crumbles in the face of disaster. The community’s shining light is Mostar, a survivor of the Balkan conflicts of the last century. She is the prophet, the pragmatist, the ass-kicker. With these characters, and the other Greenloop residents, Brooks demonstrates how a person’s true nature comes to light in a catastrophe, when they must either summon courage they never knew they possessed, or die. Or both.
In Devolution, as in World War Z, Brooks relishes what he calls “forensic horror,” a medium for understanding a disaster retrospectively, through available evidence. The novel is framed by an unnamed researcher into the events, who presents the diary of Kate Holland, a resident of Greenloop. The researcher illuminates Kate’s complex firsthand account through interviews with her grieving brother and a baffled park ranger.
The transformation of Greenloop and its members—especially Kate and her slacker husband, Dan—from self-doubting basket cases into formidable warriors transcends the notion of “evolution.” It’s terrifying. Brooks is not only dealing with the end of humanity; he’s also showing us our further course toward a new, ineluctable, absolute brutality.