ADJUSTMENT DAY: It's Not Supposed to Actually Happen
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Published: May 1st, 2018
Length: 316 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780393652598
The list does not exist. When an unidentified man goes to a police station to report an imminent slaughter of hundreds of thousands of politicians, intellectuals, media personalities, and business people, he is met only with a bullet. Nothing can stop Adjustment Day, where the new heroes of America take back their country and earn the legacy of their lineage. What follows is the systematic division of the United States into separate countries for (straight) white people, (straight) black people, and gay (black and white) people, as well as the systematic deportation of everyone who doesn’t fall into those three categories. Told from the perspectives of dozens of characters, Adjustment Day is a satire of epic proportions; no punch is pulled, no group is spared from critical examination, not even the novel’s author.
I will admit that I have not read very many Chuck Palahniuk authors. Other than Adjustment Day, I have only read Fight Club and Damned when I was in my teens and, upon reading Adjustment Day, I realize that I was probably poorly equipped to parse the complicated satirical style Palahniuk’s transgressive novels. It is not exaggeration to say that AD takes a targeted, fiercely critical look at the politics, beliefs, and collective unconscious of late 2010s America. Our supposed ‘heroes’ are mass murdering active shooters, typically with some form of neo-Nazi association. And while killing them isn’t the solution (as with all satire, this novel wonderfully challenges your reading comprehension skills), the novel is able to highlight and expose the real failures and damaging behaviours that can (and, perhaps to a degree, the novel suggests, should) arouse a righteous anger. In essence, the question at the heart of this novel is “if the current system is so broken and the people in power have so utterly failed us, then can something like Adjustment Day, perpetrated by the kinds of people who would embrace Adjustment Day, really create a better system?”
Of course not, at least not for everyone. Whether it is a woman filling her mouth with another woman’s spit so as not to be deported for having a Mexican ancestor, a biracial straight couple hiding their secret under fear of separation in Gaysia (where heterosexuality is illegal), or a black man (inexplicably) growing attached to an old plantation woman in black face, Adjustment Day highlights and slams everybody and everything. The satirical lens of the novel is so intense, in fact, that it’s taken me over a month to put together enough of a cogent description and opinion on the novel to feel comfortable writing about it. But the truth is I still have so many questions about Adjustment Day: if all of these groups and systems and beliefs are flawed and subject to ridicule, then does Chuck Palahniuk offer any kind of solution? What are we supposed to draw from the Fahrenheit 451-esque meeting in the wilderness? Who or what is Talbott Reynolds supposed to be? In a lot of ways, the point of AD seems to be to force questions, force the reader out of their comfort zone in order to encourage them to think for themselves, but also to appreciate and reconcile their thoughts and beliefs with the inevitable consequences. There is no flashy simple fix to the world, to the difference between people, the novel reflects.
Too often a book will present ideas all wrapped up in finery and perfectly packaged for digestion. You know what the problem is going in and the novel or story will offer some sort of simple solution/resolution. Adjustment Day does not offer this comfort. Chuck Palahniuk, in his self-referential self-criticism, simultaneously decrees everyone should think for themselves while telling the reader not to listen to a word he says. It is a delicate and complex balance to maintain, but AD does a phenomenal job. This is a novel that demands to be reread, demands to be unpacked, contemplated, and assessed against your world view. But it also demands you examine the world through a different world view, one oppose to your own perhaps, because maybe only then can you really know where you stand and what you believe. To paraphrase American literary critic Wayne C. Booth, Adjustment Day embodies the notion that only in engaging with obscenity can we understand what is truly obscene.