By: D.M. Olsen
As a big Fight Club fan, I came to this book with high hopes for the type of enthralling narrative interspersed with social satire—often bordering on the absurd—that Chuck Palahniuk is known for. Adjustment Day seeks to deliver the same impact—as Fight Club did in the 90s—in a sort of Version 2.0 escalation of the cult concept. Palahniuk uses the novel to introduce what the title suggests, an “Adjustment Day.” A day where a group of men, who have been reading a blue black book by Talbott Reynolds, gather to take down the men in power. They know who to target based on a secret list that has been circulating on the internet and gaining votes. The ear of a person on the list will garner the person who harvested it power in the new world order that is to form after Adjustment Day.
I bought a hardcover version of this text and I was glad I did because when I removed the dust jacket from this novel, it revealed a little secret, a clever trick the publisher put together.
Palahniuk begins his cultural introspection early with one of the professors in the novel teaching a subject called “The Arrogant Legacy of Privileged Euro-Colonial Cultural Imperialism.” In the next scene we meet Talbott Reynolds, briefly, and are then thrust into a Cabela’s-style store where a group of men are gathered to listen to a speech. These types of scene jumps are frequent in the novel. This speech is about harvesting ears on Adjustment Day. The orator begins, “How many of you know ancient Assyrian law? The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi punished law breakers by slicing off their ears? [They are] Easy to harvest . . . Easy to conceal. A hundred ears hardly strains a paper shopping bag. That amounts to three hundred thousand possible votes, practically being your own political party . . . Only the person harvesting the ear may submit it for voting credit.”
The orator continues, “An ear is mostly cartilage of the elastic type. That, and the outer perichondrium, which supplies blood and lymph. As easy to slice as a tire. The best method is to slice downward from the helix junction to the lobe . . . if you can slash a tire, you can harvest an ear.” And the speech continues as this reader gets a little squeamish.
In the opening pages we also learn about the problem facing the society in Palahniuk’s book. The “youth bulge.” This issue becomes the core the novel seems to orbit its fractioned timeline and array of characters around. The book states, “Heinsohn theorized that all major political upheavals in history were due to an excess of young males—if at least thirty percent of a population consisted of males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine—watch out! If they are somewhat educated and well fed, they yearned for status and would create havoc in pursuit of it.” And so, Palahniuk sets up the problem, one that those in power seek to fix with a war. Because, “Every conflict that culls the male population increases the social value of men. In turn, this catalyzes a rebirth of the patriarchy. With few men to choose from, women go boy crazy and toe the line for anything wearing pants.” However, the nation’s men, led by Talbott Reynolds, see another opportunity. An “Adjustment Day.”
The novel goes on to explore these themes of masculinity, male violence, and social distrust toward men and depicts a society taking decisive action to end it—to end the surplus of men. “Recent politics had effectively branded young men as an internal enemy—perpetrators of rape culture, school shooters, and neo-Nazis—and media-frightened Americans were glad to see theses bad apples culled. Mass media had done its state-instructed job to demonize draft-age men, greasing the skids for their induction.” Palahniuk illustrates the concept of culling these young men with the image of baby hens, placed under warming lamps and well fed on a poultry farm. The baby roosters, meanwhile, get dropped down a dark chute and plowed under as organic fertilizer.
The Adjustment Day occurs roughly halfway through the novel and the people left are sort of lost, as Palahniuk seems to be, as to how best to wrap things up. The novel continues for 300-plus pages, adding to its absurdities with a new world order completely segregated. All cultures, sexualities, etc., are separated so that “one culture can’t dominate.”
Palahniuk also provides a scene observing Fight Club in a sort of meta-fictional self-reference on page 157: “Palahniuk. All of his work is about castration. Castration or abortion.” This is observed by Talbott Reynolds, who then tells us what “Adjustment Day” is about. “It was to be a model for how men could form an army in order to attain permanent high status.”
The novel is a great concept with a lot to say and is delivered expertly by a Palahniuk at the top of his game. His voice is confident, and you can tell he has a firm grip on his skill set. The one thing that I could say, though, is that the novel would have been more fun to read with a tighter plot, easier-to-follow timeline, single central protagonist to root for, and a little less commentary on social absurdities. Sometimes, in novels, I prefer to infer many of these insights through the story itself, rather than character exposition. I do, however, highly recommend this to all Chuck Palahniuk fans out there.
David M. Olsen is a full-time insurance broker, writer, editor, and poet. He is an alumnus of Stanford’s OWC program in novel writing and is also an MFA candidate at UCR-Palm Desert. He is at work on a collection of linked short stories, a novel, and a chapbook of poetry. David is also the fiction editor and a contributor at The Coachella Review. In a past life, David won awards as a chef and brewer. He is a Cicerone, Sommelier, and is a certified pizzaiolo trained by 11-time world champion Tony Gemignani. He resides in Pacific Grove, California.