By Max Brooks

Del Rey


290pp/$28.00/June 2020

Cover by Will Staehle

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

When Max Brooks detailed the Zombie apocalypse in World War Z, he presented the novel as an oral history of the events that occured. With his new novel, Devolution, he returns to using elements of oral history, notably interviews with Senior Ranger Josephine Schell and Frank McCray, Jr., but only to provide additional context to the majority of the novel, which is presented as the journal kept by McCray's sister, Kate Holland. Combined with some footnotes that provide additional factual background to the story, Devolution is quite effective, despite the novel's subtitle giving away the ultimate resolution of the novel.

The novel opens on September 22, with Kate Holland and her husband, Dan moving into the small, isolated community of Greenloop, taking over the home that had belonged to her brother. Located in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Greenloop was designed as a green village with a mininmal carbon footprint, although reliant on deliveries from drones and cars for most of their supplies. The Hollands are the sixth and final household in a community that includes the founders, Tony and Yvette Durant, an author, Alex Reinhardt, an Eastern European war refugee, Mostar, and two other families, the Boothes and the Persins-Forsters, the later of which have a quiet, adopted daughter, Palomino.

The entries from Kate's journal, which are being written at the request of Kate's therapist in Los Angeles, show that Kate and Dan have grown apart in their marriage and Kate doesn't really expect the move form LA to Greenloop to help the situation. In the early entries, she introduces the various neighbors who live in the community and describes the Hollands' entry. They are welcomed, but the community doesn't really seem to be welcoming and, given their small number and isolation, they seem to be anything but cohesive.

The Hollands' timing for moving to Greenloop was about as bad as possible. On October 2, only ten days after they moved in, Mount Rainier erupts, far enough away that Greenloop isn't in the blast zone or even considered to be in the secondary zone, but close enough that they are impacted, with the road to civilization cut off, along with their communication to the outside world. Search and rescue resources are focused on the more devastated areas and the residents of Greenloop must learn to live in a world where isolation is a threat rather than desirable.

The timing for Brooks' novel is almost perfect, being published in a time when people across the world are being forced to live in isolation due to COVID-19. Just as the residents of Greenloop must learn to deal with disrupted supply lines, this year has seen the disruption of supply lines across the world, with products that have been taken for granted delayed or unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions. Brooks' characters, only eleven in number, have a hard enough time agreeing on the correct course of action, not always sharing pertinent information as they jockey for position, and reflecting a microcosm of the larger world that doesn't always respond rationally when confronted with evidence. In the case of Devolution, the evidence flies in the face of common knowledge.

Brooks' subtitle indicates that rather than being strictly a novel about a climatological or ecological disaster, there is more to his story. The community of Greenloop will also be the site of a massacre involving Sasquatch. Much as the residents of Greenloop have lost their supply lines, the eruption of Mount Rainier has disrupted the food chain in the Pacific Northwest and wildlife of all types flee the desctruction, including a tribe of Sasquatch, who stumble across the isolated town. Brooks not only explores our world following an ecological disaster, but also the dichotomy between those who view nature as an edenic place and the reality of living in a world where survival of the fittest becomes an existential imperative.

Once again, Brooks has created a riveting narrative using a technique which helps to fully bring his work to life. The use of Holland's diary interspersed with fictional interviews with real people, such as Kai Ryssdal, and fictional ones offer a depth to the work. His use of footnotes further ties his fictional world to the realities of our own, serving as an ecological warning as well as an exploration of the collapse of civilization when the accepted processes are disrupted.

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