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I didn't give two shits about the dim bulb across the booth from me, but I got a hell of a kick out of fucking with my employer and her impregnator, Everett Collins. Aviation pioneer, friend of Wiley Post and Lucky Lindy, founder of one of the nation's biggest aircrafts plants, a bigger man himself than anyone in Wichita had ever thought about being. He'd been my childhood hero, which may go some way to explaining the depth of my contempt for the man.
There are subjects that are harder to write about than others. If you think about returning soldiers stories, what comes up to mind? PTSD, nightmares, violence and some more PTSD, right? Our poor soldiers have always been eating their plateful of combat trauma. THE ADJUSTMENT, by Scott Phillips is a returning soldier novel, but it's highly different from what you know. Not every soldier sees combat and not every soldiers sees death, mutilation and horror. But the army, during a World War is quite the experience. The time away from family and responsibilities, the bonding, the rivalries, the common enemies, it's another lifestyle. It's hard, coming back to stale life in the Midwest for poor Wayne Ogden. Just time spent away from home, sometimes give you a different perspective on everything you used to believe in.
Wayne was stationed in Italy during World War II, but rather than fight Benito Mussolini's troops, he was a pimp in Rome. A good one that is, who took care of his girls and kept them pretty and motivated for his customers. Back in Wichita, Kansas with his wife Sally, Wayne lands a job at Collins Aircrafts, working for his childhood hero Everett Collins as a right hand man. He has an office over there, but he doesn't have a precise role. He just makes sure that the reckless old man doesn't get in trouble during one of his heated nights in town. And for Collins, every night is a heated night. Wayne is haunted by this odd feeling of inadequacy, having to mop up behind the old depraved CEO. Also, a mysterious language-challenged blackmailer keeps reminding him of a drama that happened overseas. Keeps tells him the blood is on his hands. Wayne has got to make something happen, for his own sake. Status quo will drive him mad or get him killed.
First thing first, it's going to smack you in the face like a shovel as you read THE ADJUSTMENT, Scott Phillips has a great sense of humor. It's not a comedy per se, Wayne Ogden is as dark of a protagonist as it gets, but humor is the thread that binds this novel together. It's dark and often highly sexual, but if it's your cup of tea (it IS mine), you will love it. Here's an example of what I'm talking about.
The whole time I knew her, which is to say the last ten years of her life, Sally's mother had an awful odor that clung to her like a shroud, as though she'd never learned to wash properly, or had stopped caring at some point. I didn't see how Sally's father stood it, in fact had trouble picturing how Sally had ever been conceived. If Mr. Tate had endured some sort of brain injury that had removed his olfactory sense I hadn't heard about it.
THE ADJUSTMENT has a very fragmented narrative, articulated around Wayne Ogden's different escapades with Collins, his personal motives to fuck with his boss, his domestic life and the other life he had overseas. It's often fragmented within the same chapter, which gives a sense of brooding to the character. His life is going in circles, he's bored, angry and dissatisfied with his situation. I thought it was a nice and very bold aesthetic risk that Phillips took to give his novel such a particular tone. THE ADJUSTMENT depicts with a lot of accuracy, emotions that are very difficult to describe.
While the pacing is not always evident, THE ADJUSTMENT is a rather friendly entry door to hardboiled/noir crime literature because it's sitting on a tiny edge in between the cousin genres. Scott Phillips is a unique and talented storyteller, and his mid-century America is only next to James Ellroy's in terms of tremendous setting. His post-war Kansas is a desolate place, run down by opportunists and interlopers. There isn't much not to like about THE ADJUSTMENT. It's funny and yet it's dark and visceral. It's not too oppressive or difficult and yet it has terrific insight on how America fabricates its own criminals.