Like a lot of fans of Chuck Palahniuk, I came to know his work after Fight Club hit theaters. If you had told me that nearly 20 years later I’d be feeling the same chills and excitement from another novel of his in Adjustment Day, I’d kiss you and thank you for the spoiler.
I’ve been hooked ever since the film and have enjoyed my time being grossed out and horrified throughout his novels, as they tend to give part of my brain a workout that rarely see the light of day in a somewhat civilized world. Whether it be Choke, Haunted, or Snuff, Palahniuk has a way of putting you on edge… and then kicking you off it into the disturbed but totally plausible pit below, possibly with you smiling as you fall. So I was excited to get a chance to read his first original novel in nearly four years when Adjustment Day came our way.
WARNING: We’re going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but please be aware, we are going to talk about the book and the premise. So if you want nothing to do with it, this is your cue to turn around and go back where it’s safe.
Adjustment Day goes through several running stories at once from different perspectives, akin to one of his previous novels (and one of my favorites) Rant, but without the interview style and without chapter breaks. The primary focus of the story is on the buildup to a specific day, sharing the same name as the book’s title, which has been building up in various ways: Politicians creating another draft to send their surplus of disenfranchised young men off to die in another senseless war in Western Asia. The country’s population at large contributing online to an America’s Least Wanted list complete with bounties that can only be collected by bringing in that person’s ear. Millions of people following a small blue book with a set of rules to live by. A ho-hum society filled with talking heads who voice their opinions but fail to act while those in the dark fulfill a modern-day prophecy. And all of these things bring the country down more than just a few pegs as we collectively become “adjusted”.
Palahniuk heads into the darkest of dark territories, playing on the emotions of the reader no matter which side of the aisle you take, even if you sit in the middle of the aisle, or choose to bitch about it all in the hallway. This book takes a hard look at where our country might just be in a few years, acting on the darkest fears of a failed America, and painting them out in all horrific glory as if Norman Rockwell left us a P.S. note.
The first half of this book is everything glorious about Palahniuk’s writing, from the insanity and mass-murder to realizations of the misguided and their eventual fall from whatever grace they carved out for themselves. All of this is to the soundtrack of a cast of characters trying to figure out how this world is shaping up after the event and where they’ll go from here. This is everything that I as a reader fell in love with over a dozen different novels from his bibliography.
The second half is where a lot of people will make two choices: keep on reading and see where this changed country heads in his vision, or throw the book in the garbage in disgust. I say that, because there are a lot of people who, as they read what happens after Adjustment Day in the book, will become greatly offended at the idea that after a massive event such as this that our country will turn into a stereotypical backwater divided nation.
Without giving too much away, Palahniuk basically predicates on the fears of the traditional left of while pissing on the ideals of the radical right. There are no winners in a post-Adjustment Day America — only whoever remains dealing with what’s left. To a degree, it’s a really cool way of pointing out that we’re a very screwed-up nation and we need to get our act together before we become so divided that we just can’t sustain without a cataclysm happening. On the other hand, there’s a lot of absurdity here even for the sake of black humor, and even I find it hard to believe these characters would carve up the country like a Victorian-era version of Mad Max.
Adjustment Day is a really good book from Palahniuk, and it’s a must-read if you need a dark humor look at where we could head as a country if we don’t pay attention to people trying to undermine us and treat everyone on TV like a reality show celebrity. However, it’s not perfect, and it suffers from having a plentiful cast with half of them lacking personality and depth, while the other half struggles to keep them relevant, matched with a future that’s more than just far-fetched. That might sound bad, but it really isn’t — it’s just unfortunate it had to happen in the latter half. But some people won’t care as the insanity of what happens from start to finish will be enough to satisfy their inner-chaotic glee. This is one of those novels you come across where you might just be left in the middle, not liking it or hating it, but trying to make sense of it all and judging it later.
As I was reading the book for review, my eye caught one or two previews online where other reviewers said this book is what would happen if Tyler Durden went global in his thinking, as if Project Mayhem was mass-marketed and the philosophy made real beyond just a cult making plans next to a paper mill. But it’s not. That’s a fan viewpoint trying to make a connection to something you already like. As much as you want another Fight Club, this isn’t it. Adjustment Day is its own beast born from the current political and pop-culture climate with much more insidious horrors or backlash turned up to 11. Project Mayhem would bow to the ambition, that is, if they had any members left after being drafted to go die in the Middle-East. Comparing the two doesn’t serve either book justice. Adjustment Day stands on its own as a good novel and should be treated as its own experience.