I need to disclose something before we begin. Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author. As far as I’m concerned the man could make a grocery list compelling and engaging. And since this was his first novel in 4 fucking years (1460 days, 35,040 hours, 2,102,400 seconds) I could not wait to devour it. Which I did. In one sitting. And I’m still sucking the juices off my fingers.
But more importantly than reviewing the book, this post provides me a great opportunity to tell the story about the time that I shared a stage with who my friend Bryce and I now call “Our good friend Chuck.”
A few years back he came to Kansas City promoting his short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread and Fight Club 2, a 10 issue limited comic book series (I have signed copies of both). My friend and I not only jumped at the chance to see the awesomeness live, but were also first in line for our first come, first serve seats.
As we came bounding down to the front row, beers and signed first editions in hand, the man himself was checking out the theater before going back stage. I would love to tell you that we had a wonderful and engaging conversation about fiction and literature and the arts, and that I impressed him with my eloquence and knowledge and wit and we are now writing partners.
Fuck, I’d settle for being able to tell you I got through the words “It’s an honor to meet you” without stuttering and fighting the urge to pass out.
He chuckled and took my awkwardness in stride, and said that he was gonna count on us to help him out later. We thought it was a throwaway line, but in that moment it was our throwaway line.
The event was glorious in all the ways you would expect. He has a rabid following and we all drank in his readings from the story collection, the answers he gave to audience questions. Broken up by playing “balls,” a game of batting balls filled with glow sticks around the dark theater. We cultists like exercise with our culture.
Then, at the end, as Chuck’s new trusty friends we were summoned, no beckoned, to join him on stage to help distribute the parting gifts to the masses.
You have not lived until you’ve been on stage with your favorite author, throwing boxes and boxes of severed hands into a hungry, ravenous audience.
To this day I go out of my way to find excuses to tell this story.
“Oh, you got a new car (or kid, or wife, or dog, basically insert object here)? That’s great! Have I ever told you about the time I was on stage with Chuck Palahniuk?”
“I heard you’re dog (or dad, or wife, or kid, or car, basically insert object here) died. I’m so sorry. You know what might cheer you up? Have I ever told you the story about throwing severed hands off a stage with my friend Chuck?”
Yes, I’m an asshole. I absolutely own that shit.
But enough about that, let’s talk about Adjustment Day. The key to good satire, especially dark satire, is to give people a safe place to laugh at the darkest corners of their nature. The key to great satire is to force them to address those dark corners without them knowing they’re doing it.
Jumping into issues of racism, misogyny and bigotry both headlong and feet first takes quite a bit of contortionist maneuvering. And balls. Big, brass, hairy, sweaty balls.
And this book has all of that. And fuck if it isn’t timely in the era of MAGA Trumptards sending their kids to Hitler Youth summer camp.
As with all of Palahniuk’s books, it takes the reader a while to piece together what is actually going on. His non-linear story telling and a fast paced diction propel the reader through the pages at a dizzying pace. If you want to understand what’s going on and keep up, you have to earn it. But rest assured you’ll be glad you did as you follow a variety of POV characters through the challenges of the Brave New World left by what became known as Adjustment Day.
There is a passage early in the book that sets the tone for the novel:
For generations pop 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 an admiration as a birthright. Men in general need to accept their diminished status in the world.
And a little further in we get another nugget of wisdom:
A hard dick was never scared. Porn did to him what spinach did to Popeye or rage to the Incredible Hulk. Putting him in a state where he could Where’s Waldo the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and never find God because the butts of all the angels are so infinitely fuckable.
Porn made Walter a ruthless wolf pack of one.
Speaking as a male, we will never stop mistaking virility with vitality. And it will always keep us in a state of fear masquerading as strength.
For me, this is a direct call back to several lines from Fight Club:
You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.
I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.
In fact, the whole tone of the book seems to be a throw back to Fight Club. When Palahniuk collapsed the protagonist, antagonist and narrator into one character, he drew stark, searing attention to man’s individual battle for his own soul. The book is the ultimate man vs. himself story, with a message that still slithers through my spirit today.
Adjustment Day draws that same searing attention to mankind’s soul, at least in our nation. The novel essentially says: “Okay bunglecunts, you think races and orientations shouldn’t intermingle? Go suck on this for a while.”
The creation of a website that contains a list of people to be executed Purge style on adjustment day speaks to a level of violent angst that many are feeling about the direction of the country right now. Complete with an all but realized threat to re-institute the draft so that world leaders can blow their load watching the porn of a World War III is terrifying. It causes us to realize how close we are to living that as a reality.
Dark satire hurts the most when it’s closest to the light of truth.
And the whole idea of cutting off the ears of those on “The List” is steeped in some pretty delicious symbolism. From a callback to Native Americans scalping their prey to the idea of taking the ears of politicians and educators because they never listened, with Palahniuk there is always beauty and purpose in violence.
Splitting the United States into three new nations of Caucasia, Blacktopia and Gaysia was also a stroke of genius, showing how each nation-state would choke on its own xenophobic bullshit and hypocrisy no matter how much it tried to play up its strengths and kill its weaknesses. The POV of the chieftains in Caucasia and Blacktopia and of a straight woman trying to make in Gaysia drew both striking contrasts and parallels.
But back to the twig and giggleberries for a minute. From Walter’s obsession with an erection being a source of power to Charlie’s manliness being reduced to goo by some well-placed spider bites and a sprinkle of patience shows how dangerous and misguided my gender’s obsession with our junk really is.
A truly great metaphor for how becoming obsessed with power can cost us control.
Most fiction provides a brief escape from reality in addition to insights and lessons into self and soul. I’m afraid that this one also provided a glimpse into what America’s could become.
There were many things to love about this book. But the thing I love the most is that my “Good Friend Chuck” is back.