Review: Adjustment Day

In his first novel since 2014's Beautiful You, Chuck Palahniuk takes the United States' divided politics to their extreme conclusion and proves along the way that his gift for social satire has only sharpened with time.

In the Before Times--approximately now--an impending war churned up by elderly politicians to purge the surplus of young men leads to a new American revolution. This revolt begins online with a crowdsourced list of potential assassination targets. On its own, the List might have failed, but as a hyperliberal university professor explains, every social uprising has a text to justify its actions. In this instance, a book--whose blue/black cover stands out "like a shaved head"--gives working-class American men the same type of ideological touchstone Mein Kampf provided for the Nazi Party. With aphorisms like "First make yourself despicable, then indispensable" and "If a man can face reality at the age of twenty-five, at sixty he can dictate it," the mysterious author Talbott Reynolds paves the way for drastic action.

When Adjustment Day comes, Reynolds's followers murder the List's most up-voted nominees, cutting off their ears to prove their kills and thus securing a place in the new social hierarchy. As the blue/black book suggests, the U.S. divides into the segregated zones of Blacktopia, Gaysia and Caucasia, and deports all but black and white citizens. Trapped by the new order, gay minors end up in concentration camps waiting to be traded to Gaysia for any heterosexual children born there. Black Americans confront the mixed legacy of the Deep South. And white women in Caucasia scramble for the best spots as "wives"--slave labor and breeding stock in the revival of European feudalism.

Palahniuk channels the contemporary sense of a societal thunderhead waiting to break into a dystopian hurricane. He has a field day skewering both the ruling classes and the proletariat, caricaturing politicians, the intelligentsia, the media and middle America with devilish glee. Readers attempting to pinpoint which side the author stands on will discover he owes allegiance to no one, including himself: at one point, Talbott Reynolds dismisses both Palahniuk and Fight Club as unequal to his vision.

The specter of Project Mayhem drifts by at times as a metafictive conceit, as do stray phantoms of dystopian and literary classics. Women feign obedience to patriarchal overlords in an Atwoodian nightmare-scape. A fireman sets fires instead of extinguishing them in tribute to Fahrenheit 451, and shades of Steinbeck surface at an unexpected moment. This pitch-black comedy achieves the aim of any great satirical work: it amuses, unsettles and leaves the reader slightly less sure of the boundaries of reality. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: Palahniuk's first novel in four years plays out the division in United States politics to a hilarious and frightening extreme.

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