Paralysis based on traumatic shock lasts for a few minutes. Careers based on cultural shock last only slightly longer. Irvine Welsh, Bret Easton Ellis, Clive Barker, and Will Self gained fame through transgression and then lost it, with the world moving on and forgetting them.
Chuck Palahniuk is still toiling on in 2018, though his 1996 book Fight Club increasingly resembles a tombstone. Adjustment Day tries to recapture Fight Club’s urgency, along with trying many other things. It’s a confused book, windmilling punches in all directions.
It begins as a parody of generational aggrievement. A surplus number of young men threatens to disturb the global order, and so the ruling classes plot a staged war to dramatically thin their numbers. But, at the urging of a tract by the Big Brother-esque figure of Talbott Reynolds, the young men rise up and eliminate the ruling class first, seizing control of the United States.
Adjustment Day is somewhat successful here, because Palahniuk manages to hit some socially relevant points (the young men share a list of names of people to kill and vote on them, like a Reddit thread). And the revolution, when it comes, is entertainingly ultra-violent.
But the book then shifts to a parody of cultural balkanisation. The United States splits into three nations, the exclusively homosexual Gaysia (which is run like a continent-sized bathhouse), the white ethno-state of Caucasia (which is like A Handmaid’s Tale), and the black ethno-state of Blacktopia (which is like Wakanda).
One of Adjustment Day‘s many weaknesses is that everything in it is exactly like something else. It doesn’t have an identity, it steals existence from other things. “Remember this? Were you aware of this? Remember the emotions this piece of media made you feel?” In a moment of desperation, Palahniuk even name-checks Fight Club, which feels like a musician trying to rouse a tepid crowd with an old hit.
The prose is spare and minimalist, but hard to read. Adjustment Day feels like eating a huge urn of light whipped cream. The characters are spasming balls of angst and introspection, none of them seeming like real people. The book soon collapses into broad farce before the ending occurs, which is so dull that I’ve already forgotten what happens.
I didn’t like it much.