This week, the purveyor of offensive and introspective, Chuck Palahniuk publishes his first novel in four years. The book is called Adjustment Day, while the name sounds like a story about a chiropractor gone rogue; Palahniuk is turning heads in a different way we’re familiar with. His new book brings up what radicalism can accomplish under a seductive figurehead.
Many writers have distracted themselves by contemplating the madness of real life current events and pointless arguments polluting traditional mainstream media. Palahniuk embraced the madness in Adjustment Day, crafting a dystopian nightmare that takes all the fractures of our modern society and escalates it… quickly.
In Adjustment Day, the United States is on the brink of a new civil war, and millennials are expected to be mowed down by the thousands, a deliberate plan by a crooked senator to avoid an American Arab Spring. From this action comes consequence; first is “The List”, an internet site where anyone can post the names of people they deem a threat to society. The more votes a person gets, the more danger they are in. The second is a revolutionary manifesto by a man named Talbott Reynolds that contains wisdom such as “We must kill those who would have us kill one another” and is advertised with the slogan “A Smile Is Your Best Bulletproof Vest!” From there, the country is split into divided territories: “Blacktopia,” “Gaysia,” and “Caucasia.” The book has compelling characters, but instead of diving too deep into them, readers are challenged to find who THEY are in this world. Be it in the ideas of its Declaration of Independence or how each nation is governed once separate from the union.
This fantasy about proletariat revolution, power reversal, and the dangers of influence is a fantastic read. I got to ask writer Chuck Palahniuk about the comparisons of this new novel to his seminal work Fight Club and how the world’s changed since the dangerous soap of 1996.
COMICS BEAT: Adjustment Day is, to say the least, bold. Most are going to make comparisons of its radical surface to Fight Club’s ideals of rebellion against the system. What would you say are major differences from Adjustment Day’s message to “Project Mayhem” in Fight Club?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: Fight Club depicted a process for coaching individuals to discover their greater potential. Once they’d reached this awareness, the members were expected to spin off and pursue a personal quest: To build a house, to paint a self-portrait, to write a book. The organization would not perpetuate itself or try to build its own power. Adjustment Day is about like-minded individuals joining forces to seize a lasting power. Fight Club is to Adjustment Day what The Fountainhead is to Atlas Shrugged. First, we explore the inspired individual, then we explore a world of many inspired individuals with a shared vision.
CB: One of the effects of Adjustment Day’s revolution is the emergence of three nations Gaysia, Blacktopia, and Caucasia each a flag for specific groups. Why were these groups a focus for you writing Adjustment Day?
PALAHNIUK: The civil war and ethnic nationalist fantasies I follow on the web seem split between Keith Ellison’s proposal for a black nation state, now echoed by the Black Panthers. That, and the quest for a white nation, as advocated by Jared Taylor. With the bid for safe spaces, so many groups have already begun to self segregate. My three proposed nations, based on identity politics — Gaysia, Blacktopia and Caucasia — seemed like the most-basic. I wanted to keep things simple, knowing the resulting nations would complicate themselves soon enough.
CB: It’s going to be interesting how real life far-right and far-left view these nations and the actions each take when given that freedom.
Every revolution in history has its figure. From Ferdinand II in the Spanish Inquisition to Saul Alinsky in Chicago; these figures spark something in humanity. Who, if any, were the real life people who influenced the creation of the book’s perennial figure, Talbott Reynolds, for this story?
PALAHNIUK: Would you believe Harriet Beecher Stowe? All writers dream of creating a book that catalyzes a huge culture shift. As explained by German academic Gunnar Heinsohn, these inspirational books needn’t be well written. Like Mein Kampf and Mao’s book of quotations, they only need to engage the reader’s emotions.
CB: I belive it. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an inherent American story but it’s regarded highly in nations across the pond. I think it truly transcends to a revolutionary level of influence. On that same note, in your eyes, how has the term “cult of personality” changed from the time you wrote your first novel to imagining the world of Adjustment Day?
On the topic of the power figures have, in your eyes, how has the term “cult of personality” changed from the time you wrote your first novel to imagining the world of Adjustment Day?
PALAHNIUK: In my salad days Music Television pumped out one-hit wonders. Attractive bands with a single decent song could conquer the world in a few days, but fall into oblivion just as fast because they hadn’t the years of practice and discipline developed by bands who’d toured to build an audience. Now the web gives people access to a similar instant fame, based on good looks or a clever idea, but that fame is even more fleeting. The only way to achieve lasting power is to gain it and then destroy the route or mechanism that got you famous so no one can replace you. That’s how Adjustment Day goes about creating a new dynastic order.
CB: If you ever take requests, I’d like your next coloring book to be called “Salad Days” and I think Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat should write the foreword. In the book, there’s a site referred to as “The List” where people post the names of anyone they deem a threat to society. Then almost by the worst high school popularity contest, those with the most votes are killed. Naturally
In the book, there’s a site referred to as “The List” where people post the names of anyone they deem a threat to society. Then almost by the worst high school popularity contest, those with the most votes are killed. Naturally, in a world of social influencers, the most common person could be placed as a target then campaigned to a death sentence. Do you believe the society created in this book was incapable of resisting the temptation of abusing their power shift?
PALAHNIUK: Of course not. Look at most lottery winners. Their sudden success only exacerbates their weaknesses. In Adjustment Day the leaders who rise to power in a single day of violence haven’t many leadership skills. Chaos descends, and we get to follow more-likable characters as they try to navigate through this new messed-up world. Imagine if all the Left Behind books had sex with The Handmaid’s Tale, then their baby would be Adjustment Day.
CB: The book has bits of wisdom in its Declaration of Independence, which could on their own be a self–help book, but one passage I’d like to get deeper into its significance is, “They will continue to position themselves against society regardless of its aims, even if those goals ultimately work in the contrarian’s best interests.” Do you as the author believe we as a society are in the way of our own progress and doomed for ideas to be relegated to an intellectual dark web?
PALAHNIUK: Years ago I interviewed the author Andrew Sullivan and he described growing up in a family where violence often occurred. As a result, he’s only comfortable in opposition to people. Thus, wherever he lands he pits himself against his peers. Whatever their stance, he’ll disagree. He’ll fight just to fight because fighting is the only condition in which he feels at home. At least Sullivan can be honest. These days most of our violence is caused by people who claim to want peace. We all need to admit we’re addicted to dominating one another.
CB: After all the years and personal success you’ve had, Adjustment Day shows you still connect in a meaningful way with issues plaguing blue collar society. Why is it still important for you to be a voice of reason, sociological science, and natural rights?
PALAHNIUK: Thank you for the kind words. Me, personally, I get sick of “good” American fiction where the weak character commits suicide, the brash character is executed, and the narrator escapes to tell the cautionary tale. These stories temper our behavior. They teach us to not make waves. Instead, I keep wanting Jay Gatsby to leap from the swimming pool, grab the gun and blow away Tom Buchanan while telling Daisy she’s a bag of dicks. I want the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath to quit dumping their dead relatives in roadside graves and flooded streams, and, instead, to cook meth or smuggle booze and get rich the way most Americans do. Yeah, Ayn Rand’s characters are heartless dickheads, but we love them because they get stuff done.
CB: I don’t mean to take up your time as I know you’re getting ready for a book tour, however, I have always wanted to ask you something completely random to see where you go with it. What do you believe happens to us when we die?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: What do we do when we climb off a carnival ride? We chide ourselves for being frightened in a situation where we were always safe. We might barf on our shoes. But then we instantly start looking for a new more-exciting ride to board, or we climb back on the one we just left. And as it starts to move we forget we’re safe, and we’re once more filled with terror and glee.
COMICS BEAT: That’s as Chuck Palahniuk an answer as I ever anticpated and I don’t think I’ll ever go to a carnival again. Adjustment Day is available starting May 1st and in support of his new work, Chuck Palahniuk will be signing copies of the new book in select places if you’d like to meet the man or get a photo of him choking you.
TUE 5/1 Powell’s (Hawthorne) Portland, OR (no tickets required)
WED 5/2 Elliott Bay Book Company Seattle, WA (tickets)
FRI 5/4 Green Apple Books San Francisco, CA (tickets)
SUN 5/6 Vroman’s Bookstore Pasadena, CA (tickets)
TUE 5/8 Strand Bookstore New York, NY (tickets)
THU 5/10 Greenlight Bookstore (Fort Greene) Brooklyn, NY (tickets)
SAT 5/12 Brookline Booksmith Brookline, MA (tickets)