BOOK REVIEW: Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk

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If you thought Fight Club and Project Mayhem was messed up…you haven’t seen anything yet!

Adjustment Day is Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel in four years; and boy have we missed him. An author who is continually reinventing himself, coming up time and again smelling of roses; the author of such acclaimed titles as Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Survivor, Choke, Lullaby, Diary, Haunted, Rant, Pygmy, Tell-All, Damned, Doomed, Beautiful You and most recently his collection Make Something Up. The man has been rather busy, especially if we look at his other works that have taken him away from the novel such as his two adult colouring books Bait and Legacy; whilst also finding the time to release the comic book follow up and now graphic novel to his debut hit Fight Club in Fight Club 2 released by Dark Horse Comics.

“For generations popular culture has been promoting the idea that all men will eventually attain high-status positions in society. Globally, today’s young males have been raised to feel entitled to power and admiration as a birthright”.

This book, if I could adequately put it into a feeling would be like rubbing yourself in honey and kicking a wasps nest, exhilarating, scary and you know you shouldn’t because it’s going to sting like a bitch; but you can’t help yourself. Adjustment Day is…unputdownable, brave and unrelentingly brilliant; further cementing Palahniuk in my opinion as the greatest living writer in America if not the world.

This is how it ends, their cross-country crime spree. Bonnie and Clyde without the body count. With the spit still wet on each other, he’ll climb out of bed and find his pants. He’ll show the police his driver’s license. Keeping his hands in the air, his pecker still stuck out so hard it shines, still waving the filled condom like a little white flag, he’ll cross the room to an elegant antique French desk.

Adjustment Day takes some adjustment to your mindset; it takes all the innermost fears, anxieties, racism, racial tensions, bigotry and the oppression of the government that is quietly bubbling below the surface and pours this scalding kettle out into your face. Palahniuk delivers this book in his typical unabashed, unashamed way, taking us into a political satyric story that is both disturbing and exhilarating all at once. There is no topic that he is afraid to touch upon, detailing brilliantly the mindset of those caught up in Adjustment Day and the fallout that follows. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk’s work will absolutely love this book; it’s quite possibly Chuck at his very best, the pages drip with his ingenious dark humour, addressing the absurdities in the society we cling to, whilst also shining a light on a quite possible although far fetched future around the corner.

That was the fatal flaw of this great country, he surmised. It never allowed the weakest, the poorest and most disenfranchised to enjoy even an hour of ritualized power. Yes, we had castrated versions like Halloween and Christmas caroling for children, but there was nothing to exhaust the adult underclasses and leave them contented to remain poor for another year.

Adjustment Day centres around a mysterious book, a book that only passes to those who people trust most; people have been memorising its directives waiting for their time to strike. Politicians are in the process of bringing on the next world war; in an effort to come up with a solution for a burgeoning population of young disenfranchised males. So it’s imperative that they are ready for when the moment comes, when the shit hits the fan and the world is thrown into turmoil and America will at long last get its great American Interdependence.

Adjustment Day reads like Chuck Palahniuk’s  greatest hits collection. It has all the mayhem of Fight Club, the tension of Survivor, the black comedy that lurks at the heart of many; if not all his books, the horror of Guts (Haunted), the ridiculousness of humanity and society from Invisible Monsters, the originality of Lullaby and his ever burgeoning  body of work, whilst upping the level of scathing satire from Pygmy. Making Adjustment Day a huge wrecking ball of social, political and ethical justice, served with oodles of classic Chuck; a satirical masterpiece carved out of a quite possible future, expressed by a visceral, visionary master at work.

Palahniuk has a way of saying things that we are either too scared to voice or too concerned about the ramifications of voicing such opinions, with Adjustment Day, Chuck says it all, he leaves his heart bleeding on the pages, all those deep dark thoughts you have, Chuck lights them up, pouring gasoline onto the fire and bringing them all into the light.

Below the railing of the spectator’s gallery, the squealing, teeming carnival of the wounded and the blinded statesmen, this circus of wailing, flailing, rich and powerful, these gore-choked, gasping clowns were the pinnacle of human folly. Hilariously, they hunched forward and tried to gather armfuls of their own burst, stinking intestines. Their pale hands held together the brains spilling from shattered skulls. These were the same pencil-pushing bureaucrats who’d voted moments before to send him and all of his friends to be similarly resolved.

The book has many characters, all of which are imperative to the story telling but all are fleshed out, there is no room for hangers on in this tale, spread out across the new America in places such as Caucasia, Blacktopia and Gaysia. Although there is a large cast of characters they are all memorable, and when one pops up after a sustained absence the reader is able to recall who they are and what part they play in the bigger narrative arch, a real skill that Palahniuk wields with a deft touch.

A smile is your best bullet proof vest.

Adjustment Day has various passages quoted throughout, from (Adjustment Day) the mysterious large blue, black book that takes centre stage; offering musings on life and how to break free from its shackles. Imagine if you would the book of Proverbs from the Bible and the thoughts of Tyler Durden from Fight Club. These musings litter Adjustment Day; giving us a glimpse into the mind of Talbott Reynolds and his vision of an American Interdependence whilst also adding structure and highlighting Palahniuk’s delectable prose and message.

The Census Bureau had recognized that the Millennials would be the largest demographic in national history. They’d be healthy and well educated, and eventually they’d all want respect and power. The dynamic had played itself out in countries like Rwanda and Ivory Coast, where surplus young men had sparked civil wars until the national infrastructure had been destroyed and the entire population reduced to grinding poverty.
For a time, American officials had kept the lid on this human powder keg by dosing the boys with Ritalin. After that, peace came in the form of endless online gaming and pornography – all covertly supplied by government contractors. Despite those efforts this generation was waking up to its mortality. They wanted more than drugged, time-wasting numbness.
Unless the United States could resolve a sizable portion of its restless bad-boy problem, this nation would be doomed to the same misery as Haiti and Nigeria. America’s version of the Arab Spring was just around the corner.

I personally was very sad when I finished the book; on two levels really. I was firstly sad that the book had ended, I’d waited so long for Chuck to return to the novel and in Adjustment Day he did not disappoint – I hadn’t felt sad about finishing a book in years, this just goes to show how good this is. Chuck has delivered a breathtaking piece of work, which is timely and deserves to be read far and wide – I personally would put it up there with his very best. It was also a sad day when I finished reading because the book is so relevant; sometimes you come across a book that was written and speaks to you in the here and now. Adjustment Day screams at you, implores that you listen, it physically grabs you by the throat, crushing your windpipe demanding you take notice.

I can only marvel at the brilliance of Chuck Palahniuk; to boldly hold up the mirror and shine a spotlight on our societal decay, inherent racism and class divides, whilst ingeniously highlighting the faults and ironies of our broken political, and ideological systems.

The King is back people….long live King Chuck!

Just as the genders are separated in most athletic competitions so should the cultures be removed each from the others so that one culture might not always dominate.

Adjustment Day is published by Jonathan Cape on the 5th July 2018 and is available to purchase here.

Cape logo black

We had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Palahniuk in 2016 – you can read this here.

Chuck Palahniuk


Chuck Palahniuk is the best-selling author of fourteen fictional works, including Fight ClubInvisible MonstersSurvivorChokeLullabyDiaryHauntedRantPygmyTell-AllDamnedDoomedBeautiful You and, most recently, Make Something Up. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery


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