From the searing satire of Fight Club to the bleak comedic horror of Haunted and Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk has long been considered one of the more affecting and abrasive of contemporary authors. Now that he's got a new novel coming out for the first time in four years, I sat down with Palahniuk to discuss his return to the written word.
Adjustment Day, Palahniuk's new book, appears to be an expansion on some of the themes he delved into with Fight Club, and it's a story he's wanted to tell for a long time. "Adjustment Day started six years ago when I rented an apartment in Madrid and spent months there, making final revisions to my story collection," Palahniuk said. "The only news I got was via the web, and it was odd being outside the United States looking in. From Spain, we look like crazy people. So many Americans demand safe identity-defined spaces, or outright nations."
The author dived right into specific examples of what he dubs as such: "And this trend has only increased with Calexit, and Keith Ellison's demand for a black nation in the American Southeast, and Jared Taylor's advocating for an ethnically white nation, and the Hotep Nation... same deal," Palahniuk said. "So it occurred to me: Why not rewrite Gone with the Wind with a civil war that results in multiple identity-based nations? I'd make Scarlett O'Hara Hispanic—Shasta Sanchez—and have her pursuing a white Ashley Wilkes she could never find. Oh, and I'd make the shuffling, mush-mouthed servant an old white lady. The damned book wrote itself."
When I asked Palahniuk about about why his work so often returns to the themes of toxic masculinity and male violence, he had an immediate answer: "Maybe because I have... a penis? Seriously, though, would you ask Margaret Atwood why she's always writing about the experience of female characters? 'Honestly, Ms. Atwood, have you considered the path taken by Rita Mae Brown, and simply write about your pet cat solving murders?'"
Palahniuk continued, "Please note that Fight Club and Adjustment Day might seem phallocentric, but I've written a half dozen novels with powerful female protagonists."
I wondered how Palahniuk, one of the best known and most controversial writers working today, dealt with the expectations of his audience. Surprising no one, he doesn't. "My parents are dead. I can write what I want. To avoid self-censoring on Adjustment Day I even dropped out of the writers workshop I've been attending since 1990. My long-time publishers rejected the book because they said it would be too dangerous. A dozen other editors followed suit for basically the same reason. I was ready to publish it commando, through Amazon, when W. W. Norton saved my bacon."
Palahniuk takes from contemporary politics, but also from other writers who he believes have subverted, satirized, and explored current events. "Inspiration for Adjustment Day also came from my love for Ira Levin. When no one could discuss abortion and women's reproductive medicine in a civil manner, he gave us Rosemary's Baby. When no one had yet to recognize the men's backlash against feminism, Ira Levin gave us The Stepford Wives."
He continued, "By presenting the hidden issue in a worst case-scenario—the Devil rapes you, your husband replaces you with a robotic housewife/sex doll—Levin gave people a way to finally address the elephant in the room. He was a genius. In turn, I wanted to spin out all our fascist, racist, separatist fantasies and exhaust them. I want to be a genius, too."
As for what Palahniuk wants the reading experience to be like for his fans, he said, "In my deepest heart of hearts, I want their five-hour airplane flight to feel like it was 15 minutes. And when they land... I want them to go get the newly released paperback of my graphic novel, Fight Club 2. Or to reread anything by Ira Levin."
Adjustment Day is on sale today, and you can catch Chuck Palahniuk on the Adjustment Day book tour this month too.
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)
Images: W.W. Norton, Dark Horse, Fox