Shelf Indulgence: Devolution (A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre)
I used to work on the top two floors of an office building that ran parallel to the top deck and express lanes of I-5. It was a gorgeous office space with waist-to-ceiling windows on every wall and a prime view of the Space Needle and South Lake Union. If Capitol Hill wasn’t in the way, we would have had an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier as well.
In this office, we had Charlie, our designated “disaster guru”. That wasn’t technically his title, but the first time I met him he asked me what my disaster recovery plans were when Rainier erupted or the big one hit, and then at least once a month thereafter would ask me if I was prepared. (Side note: I am personally not as prepared as I probably should be.) Being the “disaster guru” meant that Charlie had supplies prepped and ready for us if something were to happen. We had stashes of mylar blankets, hand-cranked radios, flashlights with extra batteries, water bottle filtration supplies, N-95 masks (pre-COVID who knew those things would be like gold?), food rations and the list went on. I knew if I got stuck at work in a natural disaster, we would be able to survive long enough for someone to come and rescue us.
Living in the PNW, we’re taught as children that at any given moment we could experience an earthquake, a wildfire, or a volcanic eruption. And here is where the imagination can run rampant, and what caused me to devour the book featured in this month’s installment of Shelf Indulgence: Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks. (It was also a quick and engrossing thriller that was appropriately terrifying for Halloween.)
The premise: a small group of urbanites retreat to an eco-community south of Mount Rainier. They are completely connected to the “real world” thanks to technology. Their groceries are delivered twice per week by drone or autonomous driving cars. Their smart homes are solar-powered and can be controlled at the touch of a button. They have a biodigester that turns waste into fuel for their homes. They are a part of nature but are also dialed in thanks to Wi-Fi. They are led by an Elon Musk-esque visionary of what it can mean to live in a sustainable, green community. And it seems like paradise; hiking and yoga every day before you logon to work, community meals, knowing you are making an ecological difference. The PNW is the ideal setting for this community.
Until early October when Rainier erupts and cuts them off from civilization. They have no way to communicate with the outside world and the lahars (don’t google this if you have anxiety over situations you can’t control, but if you’re curious I’ve linked it here) make it impossible to drive to the nearest town. The community reacts in significantly different ways. Some believe that rescue is imminent. Some pretend that nothing is wrong. While a small number assume that they will need to be self-sufficient through the winter.
As days pass, it becomes more apparent that help is not coming. It also becomes apparent that the community is not alone. Birds and animals have left the vicinity, and while this could be attributed to the volcanic activity, a strange smell begins to pervade the community. Heavy-duty, bear-proof compost bins are demolished. Most of the community chooses to believe that bears could cause this level of destruction. They don’t take steps to prevent more damage because they are concerned about harming the bears. It takes a face-to-face encounter for the community to realize they are besieged by a tribe of unfriendly Sasquatch.
The narrative switches between a journalist’s investigative report on the mystery and the found journals of a resident of the eco-community. What I loved most about this book is that it felt like this actually happened. The “science” behind the Sasquatch tribe was so well developed that I readily believed in their existence. Most compelling, was the psychology of varying reactions to trauma and stressful situations. The story was fast-paced and full of heart. I was rooting for the community to survive and had to force myself not to flip to the end to find out what happened.
I love that this book is classified as speculative fiction. I started recommending Devolution before I had finished the first twenty pages and found myself thinking about it long after I had returned it to the library. Also, I have it on good authority that the audio book presents like a radio play, so if you prefer to consume your content via recording you won’t be disappointed.
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