Adjustment Day: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk (2018) (read in 2019)
Published by marco on
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This story is told in flashbacks and flash-forwards, cutting back and forth between myriad characters. My summary untangles this all a bit.
This is the story of a brovolution, the logical conclusion of an increasingly divided population in America. It starts with a kidnapping. Walter hatches a plan to win Shasta’s heart (captured within her voluptuous curves) by showing her how rich he’s become. It’s a standard adolescent fantasy. He thinks that he will get a new “old man” to teach him how to become rich. He kidnaps Talbott, a man who turns out to be even crazier than Walter.
In a reversal of the kidnapping situation, the old man tests Walter, finds him worthy and begins to order him about, pretending to acquiesce to his demand to “make him rich”. Walter wonders at the old man’s convoluted approach, but trusts that it will work out. The whole time, the old man is tied naked to a chair, covered in the wounds from hundreds of cuts made by Walter as he searched for a subdermal tracker Talbott insisted he had, but which he’d lied about to “test” Walter’s dedication.
Walter becomes Talbott’s amanuensis as he rants and raves, dictating the text that would become the blue-black book “Adjustment Day”. We would later learn that Talbott had said “A Judgment Day” and be led to wonder along with Walter what else he’d mis-transcribed in a book that would become the user’s manual for the next revolution in America.
The book drives people to revolution by revealing an age-old secret: older and middle-aged men have provoked and will continue to occasionally provoke wars in which they cull a useless younger—and expectant/hopeful— generation of men, simultaneously clearing out their rivals and reducing available men to such a minimum that women have no choice but to allow them much more leeway in order to ensure the survival of humanity. Men gain power through their self-imposed scarcity.
It is madness, of course. But there are enough who would start packing their go-bags at this point. Palahniuk knows this and plays to the stereotype.
Sneakily, the book has some pearls of wisdom—true revolutionary ideas not poisoned by Talbott’s mad worldview—spread throughout. He makes some good points, but his proposed solutions are pure bullshit. E.g.
- ““But identity politics,” Dawson continued, “has reduced the homosexual to nothing but his sexual preference. It has reduced the black to only his skin. And each has become a caricature of his former dignified self.””
- “[…] our lifetimes must not be measured in weekends. Our time on Earth must not be judged by wages earned and taxes paid.”
- “It was clear to Jamal that for whites their guilt constituted a uniquely white form of boasting. Their breast beating was a humblebrag always saying: We did this! We thwarted God in the Garden! We killed his son! We white people will do with other races and natural resources as we see fit! Showing off disguised as a mea culpa. For the white man, his guilt was his biggest badge of accomplishment. Only whites killed the planet with global warming so only whites could save it. Their boasting never let up. It was the white racket: Creating problems so they could rescue everybody.”
- “To make a career of rescuing people is also to create a permanent class in need of rescue.”
- “Making others right makes them love you, according to Talbott, because we only love things we feel superior to. We only love those who don’t pose a threat. Making others right is the best method for controlling them.”
The revolution starts with an online List. It is “America’s Least Wanted”. Anyone can nominate someone for the list. Anyone can vote for people on the list. Those with the most votes remain; those without enough votes in a certain timespan are culled from the list. The others? They are to be culled come Adjustment Day.
When Adjustment Day comes, the members of the first lineages—hand-chosen cells full of people frustrated by society’s utter subordination and humiliation and indoctrinated in the ways of Talbott’s book—roll out, hunting down the people on The List, gaining the number of points allocated to that person and being able to use those points to participate in the new “democracy” that rises from the ashes of the slaughtered one. There are giant lime-lined pits waiting to receive the bodies of America’s Least Wanted.
It is interesting that several of the members of the first lineage were students of one of the professors marked for slaughter, Brolly. Despite them having marked him for eradication, they would occasionally draw a parallel between what happened post-Adjustment Day and what Brolly had taught them from the world’s literature and history in classes deemed otherwise “useless” by the Book.
There are myriad characters, all involved in the plot to overthrow America. The overthrow begins at about a third of the way through the book. In the rest, we watch the new countries develop in the ashes. The first third—maybe 40%—looks and feels like a flawless execution of the red-pill revolution frustrated whites are fantasizing about online all the time. There are cracks and little hints of doubt throughout, but a superficial and partial reading will find critics leveling charges of alt-rightism at Palahniuk. But read on to see the whole thing quickly careen into a mess far greater than what we have today.
The author lets the revolution go off without a single hitch. Everything goes perfectly as planned. There are no weak liberators, scared to shoot, no legislators worthy of redemption. Only professor Brolly in Jamal’s head, living on as lessons Jamal didn’t even realize he’d learned, belying the uselessness with which education had been tagged in the Book.
In a way, the cruelty and coldness of the revolutionaries is uniform and unbelievable. Still, it was better in a way than the constant mercy/betrayal cycle in Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, where the protagonists let the legislators and former rulers live, only to see them worm their way back to power, again and again and again. The steeliness was a welcome change.
But pothead Walter and his gonads inspired everything, with his lust for Shasta. It’s wonderfully done by Palahniuk. And for the other revolutionaries, always it comes down to the same thing, all the high-minded rhetoric masks the single question: can I fuck it? Men rule, women drool (literally, in Shasta’s case, when she’s “proving” her pure whiteness). The male fantasy doesn’t stretch very far. The white male fantasy even less so.
Gaysia, Blacktopia and Caucasia are the main countries, with obvious segregated populations. There are complicated rules for mixed-race citizens and sexual preference takes precedence over race. Asians are sent back to Asia and Latinos sent to somewhere in South America. Jews go to Israel. It is crude and hews closely to the simplistic plans and ideas easily found on the Internet.
Blacktopia rides high, becoming the seat of technology based on the ancient nigh-magical secret science that blacks had long hidden from their oppressors. Caucasia reverts to medieval times, barely surviving in a benighted manner. Gaysia struggles to produce children, devolving to a country that forces its male members to donate sperm and its females to host children.
The revolution ends with a whimper, having destroyed much more than it repaired, being viewed as a failure by all save perhaps the denizens of Blacktopia. The world, presumably, looks on, bemused and vaguely embarrassed for America’s inability to act grown-up.
“Such surplus young men, if they were somewhat educated and well fed, they yearned for status and would create havoc in pursuit of it. Gunnar held that starving people don’t strive for recognition. Likewise, illiterate boys will never recognize how history ignores them. But if the youth bulge is fed, well fed and schooled, they’ll become a pack of ravenous, attention-seeking wolves.”
“So whenever Shasta started to take umbrage at their harassment, she considered how most of them would soon be bulldozed beneath arid dunes with like numbers of boisterous and extraneous Middle Eastern boys. She’d scamper through her course work while her male peers would be conscripted. Their muscles and pimples would be mangled under tank treads and blasted into screaming pieces by landmines just like the buried-alive, just-hatched baby roosters whose only crime had been being born the wrong gender.”
“His best guess was that Americans were too fractured along the fault lines of personal identity politics. It seemed that no one cared about others being compelled to gird their loins and perish. Recent politics had effectively branded young men as an internal enemy—perpetrators of rape culture, school shooters, and neo-Nazis—and media-frightened Americans were glad to see these bad apples culled.”
“His best guess was that Americans were too fractured along the fault lines of personal identity politics. It seemed that no one cared about others being compelled to gird their loins and perish. Recent politics had effectively branded young men as an internal enemy—perpetrators of rape culture, school shooters, and neo-Nazis—and media-frightened Americans were glad to see these bad apples culled. The mass media had done its state-instructed job to demonize draft-age men, greasing the skids for their induction.”
“Grim but true, rumor had it that this would be the fastest world war in history. Once the combatants were mustered along the battle front, a thermonuclear strike would eradicate everyone involved. A nonexistent terrorist group would be blamed for the nuke, and the warring nations could withdraw with no loss of face. The war would be declared a “draw.” Yet another war to end all wars.”
“The Census Bureau had recognized that the Millennials would be the largest demographic in national history. They’d be healthy and well educated, and eventually they’d all want respect and power. The dynamic had played itself out in countries like Rwanda and Ivory Coast, where surplus young men had sparked civil wars until the national infrastructure had been destroyed and the entire population reduced to grinding poverty. For a time, American officials had kept the lid on this human powder keg by dosing the boys with Ritalin.”
“All of those ads for garage sales and yard sales and seal-point Siamese kittens, those people seeking to buy WWII souvenirs or Fiestaware or split, seasoned firewood, those were the underpinnings of the oldest political dynasties. At a nickel or a dollar per word, those pages had been the goldmine that had financed the high culture. The editorials and book reviews and investigative reporting that was awarded Pulitzer Prizes. According to Dr. Brolly, our brightest, most-erudite observations owed their existence to poor people trying to unload vintage Avon cologne bottles and unwanted timeshares.”
““Moments,” Piper read, “are the building blocks of our lives. And our lifetimes must not be measured in weekends. Our time on Earth must not be judged by wages earned and taxes paid.””
“And these professors felt the future, for the first time in many years, might be an improvement. And both the journalists and the lecturers were mistaken. For schooling had given the people very little in exchange for their money. And the media had given nothing in exchange for the people’s time and attention.”
“Because the Protestant religions had been created during a power-reversal ritual, those religions have always been wary of such a practice. Brolly nodded, knowingly. “The Pope, His Holiness, will continue to wash and kiss the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday, but the Protestants will never risk the same vulnerability.”
“That was the fatal flaw of this great country, he surmised. It never allowed the weakest, the poorest and most disenfranchised to enjoy even an hour of ritualized power. Yes, we had castrated versions like Halloween and Christmas caroling for children, but there was nothing to exhaust the adult underclasses and leave them contented to remain poor for another year. (Emphasis added.)”
“He asked, “What’s his value up to?” Jamal was studying his phone, scrolling through a long list of names. He kept scrolling. The list got longer every day as people submitted their last-minute nominations. At last he said, “You’re not going to believe this . . .” Keishaun froze. “Tell me!” Jamal looked up from the screen, beaming. “Sixteen hundred votes . . .” His friend gasped. That practically made them their own political party. Keishaun covered his own mouth with both hands and whisper-shrieked with joy. As Jamal used the letter opener to carve away the dead”
“Jamal leaned down to pick up the Alinsky book. Coolly assessing its pages, he said, “The time for pretty words has expired.” And he gently consigned the fragile paper to the hungry flames of the fireplace.”
“Caucasia is at war with Gaysia. Caucasia has always been at war with Gaysia.”
“By this time a secret network of the chosen was cast. Ordinary men doing their jobs. Normal people. Quiet and drawing no attention, they continued to raise their families and pay their taxes and treat others with a knowing dignity, full in the knowledge that soon they’d be unleashed to resolve all the flaws contained in society.”
“[…] repeating each other’s approved opinions about the world. To risk a conflicting idea would be dropping a turd in the happiness punchbowl, so Charlie and his brother-in-law hunkered down. They kept their heads low and didn’t draw any fire. They gobbled the turkey or Easter ham and pretended this wasn’t their lives disappearing into the past.”
“Living only on Saturday night, as it were.”
“Besides, she was among the parrots who said the world had to stay a certain way, and she’d live and die trying to earn gold stars from teachers who wanted to earn gold stars from teachers who yearned for gold stars.”
“Power meant Jamal not having to present himself as an imperfect copy of someone he’d never wanted to be in the first place.”
“Tomorrow they’d no longer be men who measured their time by red traffic lights and their pleasure by pints of microbrews.”
““But identity politics,” Dawson continued, “has reduced the homosexual to nothing but his sexual preference. It has reduced the black to only his skin. And each has become a caricature of his former dignified self.” Men like Dawson and Charlie had not left their drill presses and lathes in order to rescue the gays and blacks.
“Their lines had formed to battle the same corrupt identity politics that were now forcing the white races into one monstrous stereotype. Theirs was perhaps the meanest of all caricatures. Instead of being salt-of-the-Earth machinists and carpenters, they were being compelled by modern politics to rally under one flag as goose-stepping Nazi NASCAR storm troopers.”
“But when Christian culture supplanted the Greeks, the Christians destroyed most of the comedies. Stories of tragedy reinforced the Christian viewpoint so the church preserved Oedipus the King and Medea and Prometheus Bound and eradicated all that did not celebrate the church’s ideals of suffering and martyrdom.”
“When primitive man was prey, when he and his tribe ran in terror from a saber-toothed tiger or whatever, the man who fell would be eaten. For everyone else, his death would occur as a huge relief. According to Brolly all humor arises from escaping death.”
“The courtroom, the assembly chambers and on-location newscasts, the lecture halls, they stunk of gun smoke and spilled shit.”
Everything goes perfectly as planned. There are no weak liberators, scared to shoot, no legislators worthy of redemption. Only professor Brolly in Jamal’s head.
“Here Bing was summoned to come down from the gallery, and the target shrieked so cowardly that it was a pleasure to see him dead.”
“Adjustment Day would give him a fresh start. Whether it worked or not, it would be a radical shift. He’d be dead or in prison or a revolutionary hero, but any of those would be an improvement on the happy-sad, hopeful-fearful ordinary nobody the online world could watch getting older, getting taller, but never actually getting anywhere.”
The cruelty is uniform and unbelievable. Still, better in a way than the constant mercy/betrayal cycle in the Neal Stephenson book, where they let the legislators and former rulers live, only to see them worm their way back to power.
“Here were all Walter’s dreams, of romancing Shasta with money, of rising above the economic mysteries that submerge most people,”
This pothead and his gonads inspired everything. Wonderfully done.
“All public employees must remain servants of the people. They must forget their dreams of early retirement. Yes, they’d postponed their dreams in exchange for security and the promise that one day the young would relieve them. But now the young had seized control and were giddy with power.
“Boys who’d never expected to attain drinking age—they’d been granted a future—and the last thing they wanted was to deliver mail or write parking tickets. So Talbott had called a temporary halt to retirements and sabbaticals and vacations in the public sector. Strictly as a short-term, stop-gap measure. For how long no one could say. Exempt were the police and military for they had aided the tribes.”
Same as it ever was. New rulers. Same game.
“Just as the French Reign of Terror had commenced by beheading royals, then expanded to severing the heads of clerics and clerks and servants, the danger existed that Adjustment Day would become an annual event.”
“It struck Dawson as a shame. Looking at her, destitute like this, grit crusted around her cracked nostrils and caked in the corners of her mouth, her neck festering with mosquito bites and raw scratch marks, hidden under her unwashed stench and her claptrap political ideology he could tell she had once been a pretty fine-looking young lady.”
And always it comes down to the same thing, all the high-minded rhetoric masks the single question: can I fuck it?
“He’d listened as his teacher, a woman who’d never been beyond North America, explained the whole of Europe and Asia. Gavyn had taken notes as another teacher, who’d never written so much as a short story, dissected Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Donne. When he echoed back their pale misconceptions they praised him and pronounced him smart. Smart, yes, smart enough to know he still understood nothing and that his teachers were idiots.”
“It was clear to Jamal that for whites their guilt constituted a uniquely white form of boasting. Their breast beating was a humblebrag always saying: We did this! We thwarted God in the Garden! We killed his son! We white people will do with other races and natural resources as we see fit! Showing off disguised as a mea culpa. For the white man, his guilt was his biggest badge of accomplishment. Only whites killed the planet with global warming so only whites could save it. Their boasting never let up. It was the white racket: Creating problems so they could rescue everybody.”
“Oh, and the women. They left Charlie breathless, the women who migrated to him in droves, young women, older women presenting their daughters, women who understood the value of their beauty and vitality in this market. To them Charlie, skinny Charlie, ridiculous Charlie who’d hardly finished high school and could only operate a drill press, these women who’d only ever snubbed him—that is, if they’d even realized he was alive—these days they fought among themselves merely to catch his eye.”
And there it is again: the core of all incel, red-pill fiction.
“For too long the differing strains of mankind have been blended into an increasingly blander pool. A culture of shared mediocrity that only serves as a broader field of consumers receptive to the same generic advertising and thus steered to desiring large amounts of a narrow spectrum of products.”
“[…] the state of California had been set aside to create a homeland for male and female sodomites.”
What if you’re gay and black? Which takes precedence?
“Here a woman risked everything if she stared a moment too long at a man. She could be fired from her job, evicted from her home. The government could take custody of her children, and she’d be deported to a homeland, white or black, where no one thought it a perversion for women and men to be intimate.”
“To make a career of rescuing people is also to create a permanent class in need of rescue.”
“Due to the high number of homosexual youths in Caucasia waiting for exit visas, the queer nation was aggressively searching for closeted heterosexuals in order to trade them for the would-be gay emigrants.”
“Brach and his ilk, princes and barons they called themselves. Last month’s grease monkeys and dog groomers. An aristocracy of former steam fitters and garbage haulers. They’d picked up guns and blown the brains out of civilization. They’d read the Talbott book. They lived by it. By reading it herself she could guess how her life as a team wife would turn out. As a brood mare, popping out white babies to repopulate the new nation state. A string of babies born a year or less apart, what her own mom used to call “Irish twins.””
““We’re all self-deporting. The entire Mexican Diaspora is going Galt.” Meaning all Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos were headed south of the border. “These white people are muy loco,” he laughed. “After they all starve or wipe out each other, we’ll come pick up the pieces.””
“For example, he cited the paintings and carvings reputed to show Aztecs ripping out the hearts of human sacrifices. He knew for a fact such artwork actually depicted Mesoamericans conducting successful heart transplant surgeries. The lofty stone slabs atop their pyramids were in actuality operating tables placed where the healthy daylight was strongest.”
The Mesoamericans building contrarian myths about themselves, just like the whites did. Bullshit? Probably.
“Blacktopia had only recently announced a successful launch of its new flying pyramid, based on a long-forgotten antigravity technology suppressed by Eurocentric interests. After centuries of white denial the blacks had proven that pyramids built by the Egyptian pharaohs were in fact flying machines.”
“That’s why Adjustment Day had gone down. It would give the few remaining alpha studs the chance to boost white numbers. It would remove the temptation of Women’s Studies degrees and other horseshit that baited ladies to let their precious Aryan eggs dry up. Adjustment Day gave men like Charlie, with loads of sperm and not the best grasp of Calculus II, the opportunity to catch up the game for the white team. Simple as that.”
““Terrorists working in league with the former president have claimed responsibility for the gas attack”
“And while the whites strived to increase their numbers, white science and technology stalled. And certain whites were not above infiltrating Blacktopia to plunder its brilliance. For white science and mathematics had been harnessed only to build atomic bombs while black intellect yielded, daily, new wonders that enriched life, especially the lives of women, for Blacktopia held its sisters as its greatest treasure.”
“[…] the womenfolk of Xanthus had confronted the approaching waves. These enterprising females had lifted their skirts and faced the ocean with girl parts fully bared. Cross culturally, from Europe to Indonesia and South America, the ancient world had believed that exposed pussies would always frighten away evil. Up until the eighteenth century, above the doorways and gateways of castles and churches, masons had carved images of women squatting to reveal themselves.”
Look this up. Seems suspect.
“In the sky, directly overhead a formation of jumbo jetliners was escorting the last of the Asian genotypes back to their native continent. Shasta watched them go with despair. Caucasia had chosen haggis over yu xiang rou si.”
“Between wakefulness and sleep, people pass through the hypnagogic state, a phase when sleep walking occurs. Also common are hallucinations, visions of tripping over an obstacle or falling from a window, and the sleeper jerks awake. That sudden awakening, sleep experts called it the hypnagogic spasm. Anthropologists, according to Talbott, believe that our evolutionary ancestors had developed the spasm to guard against losing their grip on branches or the fur of the mother primate.”
“If recovery groups were the churches of this era, they were still conducted in the old church buildings. As Christian churches had commandeered the temples previously devoted to Apollo and Diana, the local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous met in the basement of St. Stephens.”
“When an outfit like Amway wanted to motivate rookie enrollees, it encouraged them to test drive Maseratis and Alfa Romeos. People were encouraged to shop for Gulfstream jets and contact real estate agents for tours of mansions on fairways and private beaches. Real details motivated people. The smell of leather seats and the sound of ocean waves under the bedroom windows.”
Does that really work? Do people somehow work harder for such goals? Maybe I’ve never been desperate enough.
“The moratorium, she meant. The big push to get anyone into STEM careers was dead. The edict was that white people were supposed to be breeding instead of reading.”
The white revolution has completely backfired.
“What she meant was that the nation of Gaysia had only recently launched its program to reproduce exports. It would be seventeen years before it yielded any heterosexuals who could be traded for the homosexuals stockpiled in Caucasia and Blacktopia.”
“The two-lane highway skirted fields that stretched to the horizon. As many rows of eggplants as there were ripples in the ocean. Tended by a platoon of stooped women with headscarves knotted to cover their hair. Refugees from the cities. The cities weren’t sustainable. Never mind all the recycling and wind turbine power, cities were never sustainable. They’d collapsed into pits of cannibalism with the lucky survivors streaming into the countryside.”
“Jamal’s first point of pride was the levitator. The same electro-spiritual principles that floated the great space pyramids, this same black-based technology allowed personal transport vehicles that amounted to small floating platforms that could skim along at incredible speeds.”
“in Gaysia they were yoked to the national campaign for reproduction. Draconian sperm drives left most men with little money or energy. And women had lost all control over their reproductive rights.”
“Citizens of Caucasia were no better off. Where they’d excelled in science, they now banned it. They’d turned their focus to Jeffersonian agriculture and reinstating a white-European culture. The great metropolises of Caucasia had swiftly declined into deadly no-go zones where displaced liberal-arts majors stalked each other as food.”
“Blacks had resurrected all the pyro-spiritual and electro-expressive technologies they’d long kept hidden. These, the sacred laws of soul-metrics, had never been appropriated to enrich the white man’s brutal empire.”
“Word was the big land operations were fringed with favelas of displaced media and information workers. All living out of their dusty cars. Washed-up web designers and diversity officers, they were all hoping to prove themselves in the upcoming rhubarb harvest and to be awarded a thatched cottage before winter set in.”
“A naked old man, his wrists and ankles flapping with scraps of dirty duct tape. His emaciated body looked glossy with dried blood. What might be a hash-mark carpet of tiny stab wounds dotted his spindly arms and legs. The man ambled along the deserted sidewalk.”
“If she’d been born into this moment she’d see only peaceful women doing useful work to the sound of mandolins. Well fed, they were all healthy and plump with their future children. If she hadn’t known the world before Adjustment Day she wouldn’t see this Edenic scene through such a cynical, bitter lens. These future children would accept this life as a given.”
“Now Shasta surveyed the fields with new understanding. These women had all been bike messengers and basketball stars. Today they were hunched field wenches, doomed to imminent, repetitive motherhood. But not a year before they’d been drummers in rock bands. They’d been dope-smoking fire walkers and hairless pole dancers. How long ago had Adjustment Day occurred? Without cell phones or calendars, it was impossible to track the days. Only the weather suggested time passing.”
“From Harry Potter to Superman to Luke Skywalker to Robin the Boy Wonder, it would seem that all kids wanted to develop their own latent superpowers and to see their parents dead.”
““I told you to call the book A Judgment Day!” Talbott ranted.
“A Judgment Day.
“God only knew what else Walter had misheard.
“Talbott shook his head in disbelief. He snapped, “Is it too late to fix this . . . typographical error?”
“A Judgment Day. Duh. And Walt lied.
“He put on his best look of sincere confidence, and he told the old man, “Don’t worry. I’ll fix it.””
“Hearing such praise, Charlie lifted his chin, and his chest swelled with pride. To display his valuable Naugahyde gloves, he lifted a hand as if to straighten his weighty gold crown.”
“Making others right makes them love you, according to Talbott, because we only love things we feel superior to. We only love those who don’t pose a threat. Making others right is the best method for controlling them.”
“the healer asked, “But tell me . . . why the lie?” Looking after her son as he disappeared into the distance, the beaming washerwoman shrugged. “I wanted him to believe in a father and by extension a God.” Watching until he was gone, she said, “Life’s just easier that way.””