New Book, Adjustment Day, Hits Home
September 1st, 2019 | CW
Adjustment Day came out almost a year ago and somehow it didn’t seem to get much traction. For a novel from the writer of Fight Club, his first in four years, to come and go without a lot of fanfare seemed a little strange. I missed it myself.
Adjustment Day is a distillation of the political zeitgeist that exists in current year. Chuck Palahniuk has taken all the Twitter stress and outrage regarding every recent cultural development and presented a worldview drawn to a logical conclusion. In many ways this book destroys identity politics by illustrating the end results for us all.
Here’s a quick summary: A troubled young man kidnaps a billionaire and demands that he provide him with the secret to success. The billionaire then outlines a masterplan for a new world order. The kid does his bidding and unwittingly unleashes a revolution.
From a straight forward plot point-of-view the book reads like a Fight Club version of The Turner Diaries. It’s like The Purge, but with a purpose. It clips along with lot’s of non-linear narrative, giving it an episodic feel.
Thematically, it’s a critique of the ridiculousness of identity politics. It’s a satire that starts out as a conspiracy thriller (secret societies, political assassinations etc.) and ends up as a bizarre fantasy novel (flying pyramids, feudal empires). The concepts are fascinating given our current year politics. Palahniuk has clearly given thought to everything from currency value to social media to the nature of power. He has a medley of ideas floating around that he’s stitched together into a loose narrative that leads us into the absurd.
Some random highlights that stood out:
The U.S. is preparing for another war in North Africa and the Middle East. They are going to reinstate the draft. The implicit reason for this is to liquidate the surplus young/poor population. Upon voting in the Senate a mass shooter stands up in the balcony and yells, “Friends, Romans, countrymen,lend me your ears!”
This is the beginning of Adjustment Day. The day that thousands of people listed on a democratically voted upon website hitlist are going to be purged. If you kill the people listed you get points...your proof of kill is collecting ears from your victims.
On Adjustment Day people making the power plays are doing a lot of ear collecting and it begins in the Senate.
Palahniuk presents a new concept of currency. All U.S. dollars are banned and their use is punishable by death. The new currency is printed on plastic paper and the ink fades over time. After one month, you’re left with a blank piece of plastic paper that can be redeemed for a fraction of the initial value. This encourages the velocity of money in society and encourages people to spend rather than horde wealth. By doing so the wealth is spread around more loosely and quickly and it’s impossible to get rich by saving.
The most successful ear collectors are provided with the initial cash.
"Thematically, it’s a critique of the ridiculousness of identity politics."
There’s a scene where a contemptuous Senator is going for a late night jog and passes a group of men holding a barbecue near the Lincoln memorial. An open pit twice the size of an Olympic swimming pool has been dug and the Senator berates the men for their lack of safety due to lack of fencing. He then sees bags of chemicals piled up and realizes something is amiss. This is the day before Adjustment Day and the open pit is meant for him and his colleagues.
The southern states are made exclusively the domain of black people and white landowners are relocated to northern or western states. One old southern belle-type lady refuses to leave her land and realizes that her attachment to the land is more important than who she is racially or sexually, so she disguises herself as an old black man and lives with her former servants in the house and estate that her family has owned for generations.
California has been made a gay nation. The problem arises with reproduction. There’s a convoluted process for trading straights and gays back and forth with the white and black nations and there are closeted straights living as gays in California so they can be with their mixed race significant others.
One of the big winners of Adjustment Day has an enormous amount of land and a harem of women that work the fields of his farm. He makes everyone act like it’s 1750 or something and slowly a plan for revenge from his wife begins to arise with a horrific conclusion that I won’t spoil.
There are a variety of Palahniuk-styled scenes throughout the novel. Firefighters gunning down news reporters. University professors getting hunted. There’s one scene that takes place pre-Adjustment Day in which two men kill a leftist university professor, cut off his ear and notice that he’s reading Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The killer scoffs and tosses the book aside and says, “The time for fancy words is over”.
Yes, I admit, a lot of this is a right-wing fantasy that I enjoy indulging in. I read this with the same fascination I have with other lesser authors. It’s so outrageous and extreme that it really is outside the Overton Window of decency. Palahniuk does take the concept to some conclusions that are necessary in order to rid us of this fantasy which pushes things toward satire, but this is the saving grace of the novel and should be edifying for the reader.
Identity politics is silly and reductionist and frankly no solution at all. Palahniuk illustrates this in an over-the-top manner that leaves the reader cringing at best and disgusted at worst. His way with words and ability to craft thought provoking imagery and concepts is what I like best, but his talent is also for the visceral and macabre. His depiction of a teen boy's sexual relationship with his psychologist was revolting. The billionaire tied to a chair and tortured with a razor blade... and the aftermathwas likewise disturbing. Palahniuk is obviously not for everyone and I have resisted most of his work for this very reason...it’s dark and disturbing beyond what I care to engage with, but the politics of this novel intrigued me and I would recommend giving it a read... especially if you are dabbling with Alt-Right notions of ethnostates and identity politics.
It just might cure you.
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