Despite some drawbacks, this book is well worth the effort for its provocative takes on race, mass media, masculinity and academia, among myriad other topics.

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Book review

Chuck Palahniuk has an immodest proposal for the state of our fractious nation. Author of “Fight Club” and more than 17 other novels, Palahniuk has written an irreverent satirical fantasy about a sudden and violent upheaval in the country called Adjustment Day — a “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” moment taken to a brutal extreme. Think Tom Robbins channeling Jonathan Swift.

It is tempting, at first, to align Palahniuk’s imagined scenarios with real-world events and people. The uprising of malcontents and the emergence of an autocratic leader he describes are reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign. But Palahniuk’s permutations are more varied and bizarro.

In this fictional world, all is not well in America. A world war looms and with it the renewal of the U.S. military draft. Disaffected Americans are divided along racial, economic and political fault lines. An underground movement has coalesced around a secret blue-black book by Talbott Reynolds that mixes aphorisms and instructions for a day of reckoning like no other, targeting teachers, journalists and politicians. (Talbott is a genius or a crank — the reader is not sure which.) Talbott’s adherents and their clandestine teams or “lineages” make preparations for the big day.

Without giving away the grisly details, suffice it to say that a big change is coming. For the survivors of Adjustment Day, the biggest change is the division of the country into three homelands, Blacktopia, Caucasia and Gaysia, each with its own leadership and laws. The three regions share a new national currency.

Starting over with a clean slate and a new set of rules has a certain utopian appeal. “Allow each [culture] to evolve in isolation,” Talbott preaches in his book. “For too long the differing strains of mankind have been blended into an increasingly blander pool.” Most fanciful of the three homelands is Blacktopia and its “Black Panther” vibe, complete with paradisal cities, advanced technology (flying pyramids!) and the revelation that African Americans have supernatural powers of healing that they have previously hidden. Black people are emancipated from the stereotypes of themselves as killers, gang members and welfare cheats.

On the flip side of utopia, residents of Caucasia are deflated. “It felt as if the white race had lost its way. It no longer had blacks and queers to feel superior to.” New edicts stress having more babies over education or career. In most of the homelands, women fare poorly (young females become “brood mares” in Caucasia) and wield little power.

The first two thirds of the novel are a compelling read. The buildup and immediate aftermath of Adjustment Day, blending peppy personas with chaotic action, is a tribute to Palahniuk’s febrile imagination; but the social disintegration he presents is difficult to sustain narratively. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep the story lines straight, and the characters become more like archetypes for the absurd new world order, than people worthy of our empathy.

Despite these drawbacks, this book is well worth the effort for its provocative takes on race, mass media, masculinity and academia, among myriad other topics, and the way the author delights in turning institutions and conventional wisdom on their heads.


“Adjustment Day,” by Chuck Palahniuk; W.W. Norton & Company; 316 pp.; $26.95

Chuck Palahniuk will sign “Adjustment Day”at noon Wednesday, May 2, at  Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; $26.95 includes a copy of the book and admits one person to the signing line; 206-624-6600,