Max Brooks’ ‘Devolution’ Depicts Human Nature Through Sasquatch and Volcanoes

(Courtesy Del Rey Books)

(Courtesy Del Rey Books)

By Zoe Gottlieb, Arts Writer


A pandemic starts off small. People hone in on news updates, wash their hands regularly and cover their mouths more often when they sneeze. Most people are still under the pretense of “business as usual,” and a widespread panic has yet to set in.

As the news becomes saturated with phrases such as ventilator deaths and max occupancy, more people begin to pay attention, and fear starts to set in. This fear drives crowds into supermarkets, divides shelves into territories and ultimately has an insidious effect on human behavior. 

Devolution is deterioration. It occurs when instinct begins to trump intellect and the primitive part of humankind comes to the 45surface.

From Max Brooks — the author that brought us the zombie-horror novel “World War Z” — comes another nail-biting thriller in “Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre.” While the concept of a Sasquatch massacre amidst volcanic eruption aftermath may seem like a far cry from reality, some of the classic survival elements retained by this book’s plot structure hit shockingly close to home — especially now as we navigate through our own real-world pandemic.

The Story

Kate Holland, a cautious, observant woman in her mid-30s, is our protagonist. In the opening chapters of her diary, she, along with her husband Dan, situate themselves in the northern fringe community of Greenloop. Greenloop, as defined by our narrator, is a self-sustaining northwestern enclave that combines urban comfort with eco-conscious adaptation. 

At first, Greenloop seems like nothing but a pristine paradise and hardly a compromise compared to what life’s like on the outside. All the neighbors seem to get along perfectly amongst the rich, vibrant greens that fill every corner of the landscape and promise a better future. Even the community leaders, Tony and Yvette Durant, possess an overpowering aura of hope and idealism in both their dress and mannerisms. 

However, this all changes when the volcano Mount Rainier erupts, blanketing the neighboring cities in darkness. All Greenloop community members gradually lose touch with the outside world and not long afterward, their own sanity. 

The Message

Josephine Schell, a senior ranger in the book, is a strong character whose narration serves as a foil to Kate’s more frank, observant style of prose. And although we never dive quite so deep into her perspective, her often insightful, scientific remarks illuminate the book’s main theme — “[People] all want to live ‘in harmony with nature’ before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious.”

The main message of Brooks’s novel, besides driving home the potential for humans to reach into their more animalistic selves, is that when you mess with nature, nature messes with you. Just like their methane-powered homes that end up predictably going haywire under external, environmental pressures, people are just no match for the perplexing power of nature. 

In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic and people’s responses to it mirror what happens in “Devolution.” Just when we think we have gained the upper hand on the natural world, it strikes back, often with lethal force.

Not only is “Devolution” a triumph in its unstated support for things like environmental protections, but it also digs down to the core of who we as humans really are and our inborn limitations that so far have yet to be fully realized. A little humility would serve these characters well, and perhaps allow them to survive a little longer. Maybe humility would serve us well too. 


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