Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Chuck Palahniuk has found no shortage of ways over the years to comment on the absurdity of human society and expose its virulent side to the light. With his novel Adjustment Day he returns once again to do what he does best, presenting a story of many intertwining narratives taking place in a society which seems to fall apart at the seams with the publication of a strange book heralding the titular day.
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Chuck Palahniuk’s Return to Form
What I’m about to say is more a reflection of what I gather is general opinion rather than my own, but it seems to me Chuck Palahniuk had fallen out of favour with many of his long-time readers in recent years, at least when compared to his status two decades ago. Recently, he published Adjustment Day, and if nothing else, it felt to me like a welcome return to his roots and the form we know him in.
The story of this novel is, in a sense, rather vague to fully encompass in a brief summary. We are presented with a wide number of narratives taking place in a world where a certain event is bound to change everything: the titular “Adjustment Day”.
This change was sparked with the publication of a mysterious book which provides people with the necessary instructions on how to behave during the coming event, sharing gems of wisdom such as urging people to use their smiles as bulletproof vests. As more and more people become acquainted with it, the level of chaos just keeps on rising.
Unfortunately, the amount of reasonable people or the power they have decrease in the diametrically opposite direction, and a national crisis threatening to spill over to international proportions begins to brew. As clueless politicians are on the verge of kick-starting the third world war, those beneath them only dream of clawing their way to the top.
Adjustment Day will come, and there is no stopping this fact. What will America end up looking like when the many branches of its madness are led to their logical conclusions? What will be left of it when the balances of power inevitably end up shifting?
Study of the Social Mass in Adjustment Day
While I think we all at least expect transgressive fiction authors to defy the norms and conventions we’ve grown so accustomed to, Chuck Palahniuk‘s approach to telling this story certainly takes a bit more adjustment than expected, or at least such was my case.
More often than not, we’ve seen protagonists from him who were downtrodden outcasts trying to break free from the various types of oppression they experience, but in this case, I don’t think there is even a protagonist to actually speak of. While Talbott Reynolds does seem to be an omnipotent force driving everything forward, even he doesn’t take up a central role in the plot.
A happy past cripples people. They cling to it with nowhere better to go. Nothing to improve upon.― Chuck Palahniuk, Adjustment Day
At first, I wasn’t sure about how well this approach was going to work, being worried more than anything about ending up with too many characters and storylines to keep up with, as is often the case with wide-swing approaches. Thankfully, it seems Palahniuk has an exact idea of just how many records he can keep spinning at the same time.
The various segments with different characters ought to be treated more like slices of life exploring specific details of the social mass. It also helps the language is fairly light and never carries us too profoundly into any given topic; if there’s one thing I can’t fault the author for, it’s feeding us superfluous information.
Naturally, this society we’re looking at mirrors our own in many respects, even if exaggerated ones. While I won’t say every sentence carries a brilliant observation, there are a few of them on every page and they succeeded in making me think about my own life experiences and examinations of the society I live in; this fact alone made the book worth reading for me.
Controlled Doses of Absurdity
Chuck Palahniuk never missed an opportunity to shed the light on the unsavoury elements of our modern world, but this doesn’t mean his stories are bleak in their nature, and this goes double for Adjustment Day.
The amount of absurdity in the plot is relatively high, but I believe anyone entering this adventure should suspend their disbelief at the door; it’s necessary for the author to conduct his thought experiment. Personally, I just found myself accepting all of it as it came, and I think this was in large part due to how well the ridiculous was integrated into the fabric of this universe.
The worst aspect of loneliness was the silence.― Chuck Palahniuk, Adjustment Day
With quality absurdity a book inevitably enters the realm of comedy, or at least has one foot in the door. While I wouldn’t call this novel a work of pure comedy, the elements of satire weigh heavily on the pages and have made me laugh on more occasions than I can count. I think this stands as a testament to how sharp and truthful Palahniuk‘s observations are.
Another benefit of the overall atmosphere the author went for is the unpredictability it carries along with. All too often we read stories and feel like we know where things are going, largely because we’ve already seen it play out in other works, or the number of potential developments is in itself limited. In Adjustment Day, all bets and limits are off; anything can appear on the next page.
|W. W. Norton & Company
|May 1 2018
Considerate as he is, the author doesn’t keep the absurd mask on all time, taking it off when the moments come to make some more serious reflections on the condition of modern society and the general state of confusion it has been in for a few years now. These little breaks help create a varied pacing, and where variety thrives, boredom goes to die.
The Final Verdict
Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk is a masterful return to form for the famous author, presenting well-argued and thought-provoking arguments about the state of modern society and its potential future, all while maintaining a number of highly entertaining narratives and playing expertly on their absurdity.
If you’re looking for a powerful, modern transgressive fiction novel which won’t leave you feeling indifferent, or if you’re a fan of the author, then I strongly recommend you give this book a read.
Chuck Palahniuk is an American freelance journalist and author of transgressive fiction books. He is best-known for his award-winning novel Fight Club which was later turned into an equally-successful movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. His other works include Survivor, Snuff, Doomed and Adjustment Day, just to name a few.