Most known for his global sensation World War Z, author Max Brooks now turns his attention from the undead to the Sasquatch with disturbingly-brilliant results.
Regardless of the feature film’s reception, the original source material for World War Z took the world by storm when Max Brooks created a realistic take on what would happen if zombies existed in our world. Well, as realistic as something like that can actually be. Now over a decade later Brooks returns to the world of cryptozoology and tackles the North American myth which has fascinated believers and skeptics in equal measure. In Devolution he asks one very simple question – how prepared are we for a discovery as monumental as finding out that Bigfoot is real, and that he is not alone?
Unfortunately for the cast of this book, the answer is not very well at all. Told through the lens of an investigator researching the aftermath of the narrative’s tragic events, from the very beginning we are told that everyone is either confirmed dead (or more appropriately, slaughtered) or missing for over a year. Rather than spoiling the experience and making it feel like a waste of time, this keeps a cloud of dread hanging over the reader as every minor incident heightens the tension as we think “is this how it happens?” Tasked with the investigation by journalist Frank McCray, the sister of missing protagonist Kate Holland, our intrepid investigator goes over this particular mystery with a fine tooth comb in order to get to the truth.
It is a literary device which could not have been executed better for this subject matter. Using her journal as a guide, the investigator recounts what Kate experiences over the days and weeks following the eruption of Mount Rainier. This has cut-off herself and her fellow residents of the Greenloop off-the-grid ecologically-sound commune from the rest of society, leaving them with no cell phone coverage and blocked roads. Isolated from civilisation, the group hunkers down and makes the best of a bad situation by adapting to their environment and utilising the resources at their disposal. Initially unbeknownst to them, a troop of giant, ground-faring primates recognisable as ‘Bigfeet’ have been displaced by the disaster and have come across them after they fled their own natural, hidden habitat.
Beginning each chapter with a relevant quote from other ape or Bigfoot-related materials and breaking up the narrative with a fictional interview with Senior Ranger Josephine Schell, who was part of the team who first discovered the site of the disaster and found Kate’s journal, Brooks manages to amplify the tension and sensation of dread with each passing page. What begins as a hopeful, mostly lighthearted story of people trying to reconnect with nature in state-of-the-art self-sustaining homes soon turns into a fully-fledged horror story as a nightmare unfolds around the cast of characters.
When the disaster first hits panic sets in but soon gives way to clearer heads and everyone calms down, adjusting to the new routine. Then a few days later a rustle in the trees catches someone off guard. The paranoid sensation of being watched feels a little bit too real. A dark figure in the tree line which is there one moment and gone the next is just a little bit too suspicious. The first person to go missing is more than a little bit worrying. The screams coming from the forest are terrifying. The hairy behemoths spotted skulking around the commune in the dead of night are enough to turn nightmare into reality.
The pacing of this book is perfect. The first act is spent setting up the characters themselves and their quirks, while also familiarising the reader with the environment and their available resources. The second act is when the doubt and suspicion creeps in, and by the time the third act comes around we are racing at full speed through a fully-fledged horror story.
What makes the book all the more terrifying is the prior knowledge that despite all of their plans, all of their grand ideas and survival instincts – the humans lose. It is right in front of us in black and white in the introduction before we even turn the page to Chapter 1. Despite all of the character growth which goes on throughout the book, despite the skills and intuition which the people we begin to grow fond of develop in the face of danger, it is not enough. They are not equipped to face the horrors that await behind that rustling bush out of the corner of your eye.
Making a triumphant return to the horror genre, Max Brooks has crafted what will be seen as the current definitive take on the Bigfoot subgenre of literature. Mixing his signature blend of human endeavour against incomprehensible terror and unique account-based narrative, Devolution is an exhilarating read which deserves its place on any horror fan’s summer wish list.