Book Review: Devolution by Max Brooks

Synopsis

Greenloop is a community built on the idea of creating sustainable, eco-friendly living. After a volcanic eruption, the community is caught off from the rest of the world. The residents fear they might run out of food, unaware they are about to enter into a territory war with Bigfoot.

Review

I’ve been a big Max Brooks fan ever since I read World War Z. I read it in university and – being a history major – loved how it used primary source documents (first hand accounts of historical events, such as interviews, diaries, or letters). I fangirled hard when I saw him at Comic Con on a zombie panel. Big, big fan.

But I did not like this book. It uses similar storytelling as WWZ: a diary from a resident, Kate Holland, who has left us a first hand account of the massacre and remains missing. Brooks sprinkles in interviews with experts, such as rescue teams and scientists to flesh out the world for us, but it doesn’t really work; primarily because of the diary format. Kate’s diary reads like an edited book, not a diary:

As we walked slowly among the stones and bones, I began to pick out distinct islands: leaves, moss, whole ferns torn up by the roots, all pressed into the earth and all of it mixed with the long, coarse fibers I now recognized as hairs.

It reads like a carefully crafted memoir. The format really broke the world for me and I didn’t feel like I was immersed in the story. I would have appreciated a more modern form of documentation, like vlogging or blogging or something people would actually do today.

The characters are largely depicted as millennial morons: vain, idealistic, and incapable of survival once they are disconnected from technology. For example, one scene depicts one couple as impractical idiots who are unwilling to harm an animal to protect their child. Brooks seems intent on warning us on the dangers of relying too much on technology, but you walk away with an “OK Boomer” feeling.

It did remind me of a paper I wrote in grad school about the founding of Llyodminster in Alberta, Canada. Issac M. Barr, a clergyman, convinced urban families to leave their jobs in England and move to Western Canada. In 1903, a group of English families, known as the Barr Colonists, moved into the Prairies to establish a community. The intent was to populate the Prairies with good, English families. The problem was: the families didn’t know how to farm. They nearly starved to death their first year and were saved, ironically, by the Doukhobors (a group of Russian farmers) – people seen as undesirable by Barr. The same unpreparedness can be seen in the characters in Devolution, but the story fails to make the characters redeemable and you kind of end up rooting for Bigfoot.

I should have liked this book. I love stories where you end up trapped with humans and have to create a community and rely on each other, like The Mist by Stephen King. Ever since I read that book, whenever I was in a restaurant or store I would think about what would happen if I ended up trapped with this particular group of people. It’s rarely comforting.

I just can’t recommend this book, but it does have a 3.9/5 on Goodreads. I get the feeling this is due to the Bigfoot subject matter rather than the story itself. I remember reading a review of Premium Rush, describing it as the best bike messenger movie you’ll ever see, and that’s kind of how Devolution feels – the best Bigfoot story you’ll read this year because it’s the only one. I do feel that this could be a great movie, though. Can someone @ Jordan Peele or James Wan to make this into a movie?

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