Warning for US
at this stage to point out that where Renton and Sick Boy from Trainspotting were dedicated to destroying themselves through drugs, the profoundly disturbed Durden had more grandiose plans afoot.
Forming what used to be known as a straightedge gang, Durden’s followers in the titular fight club were a modern-day band of ascetic warrior monks, dedicated to destroying society instead — a greater ambition than the more personalised nihilism of what was then known as the slacker movement.
In many ways, Fight Club was the last really important book of the 20th century — a masterful rejection of the pointless drone-life of the modern consumer and an angry call to arms for disaffected young men, predominantly but not exclusively white, who just wanted to tear everything down and start again from scratch.
If the book was strange and unsettling, the author’s life has, in many ways, been even stranger.
His father was murdered by the vengeful ex of a woman he had met online in a crime so sordid it could have been plucked from the pages of one of his son’s books, and the cult of Palahniuk seemed unstoppable. During his public readings of the short story ‘Guts’ when he was promoting the brilliant Haunted, people fainted or vomited. At that point, it seemed he had become his own creation, leading his followers like a caustic, hipsterised Pied Piper of Portland. Subsequent books came and went with varying degrees of critical and commercial success and it became clear, particularly with 2009’s Godawful Pygmy, that here was a man in desperate need of a strong editor.
As we discovered a few months ago, and just prior to the release of his best book in years, Adjustment Day, he also needed a proper financial advisor.
Palahniuk was financially wiped out by his publisher’s accountant, who is now in custody awaiting trial for stealing millions of dollars from the author’s account.
Some of his critics have seized upon this news as evidence that he must have just cranked out Adjustment Day to pay some legal bills, but there is a lot more to it — and is often the case with this consistently perplexing writer, a lot less — than meets the eye.
Mashing up the current febrile mood in America and the destructive impulses of Fight Club, Adjustment Day is what would happen if Tyler Durden’s kids decided that enough was enough.
In a series of opening vignettes, we see the preparations for the coming revolution — a list of ‘America’s Least Wanted’ (academics, politicians, and, of course, journalists) is prepared, and to join this new order, you have to kill at least one person on the list and present their left ear as bounty.
Meanwhile, America has reintroduced the draft and, alongside a dozen other countries, is about to send all its superfluous young men to the Middle East, where combatants on all sides will be eradicated in a pre-planned nuclear strike as a form of genocidal pest control.
Having tried to sedate its young men with online gaming and pornography, states one character, they were now waking up to their own mortality and this so called ‘youth bulge’ had to be destroyed before millions of disaffected young men turn the United States into another Rwanda.
The country splits asunder into new states — Caucasia for the whites, Blacktopia for the blacks and Gaysia for the gays and this is where some of the more intriguing ideas begin to fall apart.
Adjustment Day has received a kicking from some quarters, and no doubt the author will get a sense of grim satisfaction that he can still provoke a strong reaction. But he skewers every tribe in the identity politics rainbow; although the brush strokes are so broad that nobody ever evolves past the point of caricature.
But as ever with Palahniuk, you come for the ideas and his warning that ‘America’s version of the Arab Spring was just around the corner’ doesn’t sound quite as far-fetched as we may wish.
Welcome back, Chuck.
is what would happen if Tyler Durden’s kids decided that enough was enough