by Chuck Palahniuk
WW Norton, 2018
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has added a unique but rather distasteful novel to the dystopian canon. The novel is not about the usual downfall of a dystopia, or an individual’s escape from a dystopia, but rather the creation of a dystopian society.
It is the eve of America’s newest war, one in which two million young men will be removed from their ordinary lives and be drafted to fight. Just as the declaration of war is about to be passed, the citizens of the United States begin Adjustment Day, the ultimate power reversal. For weeks people have been voting on what is called The List, an opportunity for ordinary citizens to select who they think are “America’s Least Wanted”. Fueled by Adjustment Day, an aphorism filled book which convinces ordinary citizens that Adjustment Day is coming, and that they have the opportunity to be a part of it. In only a few minutes, nearly all of the targets on The List have been killed, and their left ears taken as evidence.
The narrative of the novel jumps from person to person and detailing how each person contributes, copes, or fights against the events of Adjustment Day and its aftermath. The result is a novel which is not told in chronological order and difficult to follow. One pair of scenes, which take place only minutes apart, are separated by more than seventy pages. The various characters seemingly appear and disappear in the narrative as they please without any specific reason, leaving it up to the reader to guess who is important and who isn’t to the novel.
The most important pivotal scenes in the novel are punctuated by disturbing, and even obscene, scenes which seem to have no other purpose than to disturb the reader. Much of the novel seems to be a challenge to see how much you can stand. Throughout the novel you will be treated to the sights and sounds of a body decaying to the point of explosion, the trial and error (mostly error) of using a razor blade to remove a GPS tracking device from an old man, and one-eared Congressmen burying their fellow politicians in a mass grave.
Although the novel does have solid passages which do provide insightful and interesting commentary upon the state of power in America, those passages are few and far between. Palahniuk’s commentary is stifled by the lack of chronology, random scenes which appear to have no other purpose than to disgust the reader, and an abrupt ending that leaves many questions unanswered. The novel is, however, original in one of the most stereotypical genres.