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Devolution: Horror Done Right

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Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre: Brooks,  Max: 9781984826787: Amazon.com: BooksHorror is more than just jump-scares and gore!

It might sound strange, and I've had more than a few weird looks because of it, but whenever I'm asked for my #1 book recommendation, my perennial go-to is the zombie classic, World War Z. That's right, this book reviewer's favorite comfort read is a post-apocalyptic thriller about reanimated corpses. But if you haven't read it I do urge you to give it a chance because it is frankly awesome. Maybe I'll write a book review of that one soon...

But because I'm such a Max Brooks fangirl, I couldn't resist listening to the audiobook for Devolution, his latest fictional-documentary approach to another classic horror trope: Bigfoot.

Again, it sounds beyond weird to enjoy a book about Bigfoot, but let me tell you that I couldn't put this one down (or stop listening, in this case). I was riveted by the story of a bunch of pampered Seattleites trapped in their small, isolated, eco-friendly commune by the eruption of Rainer. There's this wonderful sense of slow, building tension in the story, knowing what's coming, knowing what happened, and then seeing it all play out through the surviving journal of the protagonist, an anxious millennial-type named Kate who goes from not being able to stand up to her own husband to (SPOILER ALERT) bashing in a primate's skull with a rock (END SPOILER).

And therein lies the brilliance of Devolution: how well the horror elements link in with the characters. At its core, the book is about how far from the feral brutality of nature we are in our sheltered modern lives. Each of the characters embodies this contemporary naivete, through their blind faith in the government, idealistic veganism, the savior complex of foreign adoption, or sheer gluttonous laziness. At the start of the novel, the group of people who become stranded together in Greenloop are soft and safe and accustomed to the luxuries of their lives.

Needless to say, the story forces them to change.

Beyond the wonderful way the book challenges the characters to grow by facing something none of us can even imagine (except Brooks, I suppose), the horror is also deep and, if you'll pardon the pun, primal. I'd never put much thought into why the Bigfoot mythology is so pervasive and fascinating. To me, it had always been this weird thing some people believe in, like anal probes in alien abductions. But reading Devolution you realize that Bigfoot is, in fact, terrifying. The idea of a larger, stronger primate species who might have once overpowered us, who might see us only as troublesomely intelligent food, is spooky to say the least. Because primates are pack hunters. They're smart, use tools, and can be maliciously vicious. If you know anything about chimpanzees, you'll know how horrifically they treat the monkeys they hunt down and slaughter.

Setting the stage where a group of abandoned humans have to face their most ancestral enemy was a brilliant storytelling tool, because it allowed Brooks to not only push the character development to its limit, but also help the story worm its way into your mind. Reading Devolution, I couldn't help but wonder how I'd react. What I'd do in a situation like this. How it would feel to suddenly be at the bottom of the food chain again.

In short, Devolution was more than just a book to scare you. It was a damn good story!

What do you think? Have you read anything by Max Brooks? Do you believe in Bigfoot? Let us know in the comments below!


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