Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre
By Max Brooks
Del Rey. 304 pp. $28
Bigfoot holds a big place in my heart.
Two years ago, a congressional race in Virginia took a weird turn — I mean weirder than usual — when Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn accused her Republican opponent, Denver Riggleman, of being a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica.”
With my well-trained nose for important news, I got Riggleman on the phone. I learned that his opponent was referring to a crude parody that he’d once made for some of his old Air Force buddies. “I do not believe that Bigfoot is real,” Riggleman declared. “But I don’t want to alienate any Bigfoot voters.”
Riggleman went on to win the election in Virginia’s 5th District. The story I threw together about Bigfoot erotica remains the most popular story I’ve ever published.
Joshua Blu Buhs knows my heartache. In 2009, he wrote a cultural critique titled “Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend.” He ventured into the dark woods to understand what drove these obsessed searchers and conspiracy theorists. His discovery: the myth satisfies such a primal need that if Bigfoot didn’t exist, we would have to invent him.
Which brings us to Max Brooks’ new book, “Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre.” This marks a significant change for Brooks, who is a well-known expert on zombies, which are still widely disputed, like werewolves or climate change. In 2003, Brooks published “The Zombie Survival Guide,” and his 2006 book “World War Z” was later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt.
With “Devolution,” Brooks brings his considerable investigative powers to a cryptozoological controversy that has been raging in the Pacific Northwest for decades. “I will let you,” he writes, “judge for yourself if the following pages seem reasonably plausible.”
Cleverly, some of the elements of this story do seem reasonably plausible, which, as we’ve learned, is the key to any abominable conspiracy theory. Brooks includes factual footnotes, interviews with a park ranger and excerpts from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1893 memoir, “The Wilderness Hunter.” But the meat of the book is a document of somewhat more questionable provenance: a diary retrieved from the site of a grisly massacre in Washington state.
The author of this diary is a missing woman named Kate Holland. She and her depressed husband, Dan, were members of a small group of tech pioneers who joined a utopian community called Greenloop built in “a mountainous, primeval rain forest as treacherous as anywhere in North America.” The six smart homes, powered by methane gas from the occupants’ poo, are the epitome of the green revolution: “No more sacrifice, no more guilt.” Physically removed from the troubles of the world while remaining linked by high-speed Internet access, the Greenloopers are free to enjoy “the best parts of both an urban and rural lifestyle.”
Fortunately, the founders of Greenloop, a handsome tech guru and his yoga-teaching wife, have anticipated every contingency, so there is absolutely no way anything could go wrong.
Things immediately go wrong.
Mount Rainier erupts with a volcanic explosion. Kate writes, “It felt like a giant foot had kicked the house,” which is a little too on the nose. That cataclysm sends out a tide of lava and boiling mud that cuts off the Northwest corner of the country. Greenloop is too far away to be threatened directly by the volcano, but the explosion takes down the community’s Internet and cellphone service, which is tremendously irritating when you’re trying to watch “Young Sheldon” or defend yourself against an emboldened band of carnivorous Sasquatches.
Given the monster stories set upon the world by Mary Shelley and other masters of the macabre, Brooks is trying to fill some awfully big shoes here. The results are uneven. We want our horror either campy or spooky, but for far too many pages, “Devolution” plods along a dull middle ground, not so much building suspense as venting it.
At least when the Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) finally start attacking, the mayhem is satisfyingly ferocious and gory.
There’s probably a great horror novel about Sasquatch out there somewhere, but I won’t believe it till I see it.