Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fun Bleak Fun: Scott Phillips's The Adjustment

Scott Phillips's new novel The Adjustment is really too new to be an entry in Friday's Forgotten Books, but this post is meant to be a preemptive strike: this novel shouldn't be forgotten or missed.

Phillips returns to his native ground of Wichita, Kansas, in this violent, amoral, darkly funny yarn of ex-serviceman Wayne Ogden's return to civilian life after World War II (that's "the adjustment" of the title). Wayne, however, had a somewhat non-traditional tour of duty in England and Italy, where he focused on pimping and black marketeering. He's quite proud of (and nostalgic about) his wartime activities:

"If you are a reasonably competent and ambitious individual with a bit of initiative and creativity, and a willingness to look at strict regulations as loose guidelines to be skirted when necessary or convenient, there is no better job for you than Master Sergeant in the United States Army Quartermaster Corps"; "The QM Corps gave me thrilling and lucrative work. Men needed the things I offered for sale. Women, some of them beautiful women, relied on my for protection and income, and the army relied on me to distribute whatever I wasn’t able to reroute and sell elsewhere. It was a good life, and by the time it came to its violent end I could see my sweet situation beginning to unravel."

Wayne maintains this wonderfully blithe tone throughout the book -- even when he is committing atrocious acts. Indeed, he seems reminiscent of some of Charles Willeford's great "blithe psychopaths" -- entrepreneurial (and thereby wholly American), funny, seemingly well-intentioned, and smarter than everyone else in the book.

Back in Wichita, Wayne becomes bored with his corporate job at Collins Aircraft as "a bag man and babysitter for an alcoholic skirtchaser" (the company boss, Everett Collins). He's also bored with domestic life and fears his impending fatherhood. Hi-jinx ensue, to say the least.

Interestingly, this book was published by a relatively small press, Counterpoint, which inevitably makes the book easier to miss. Phillips's first novel, The Ice Harvest (great stuff), had a Big Six publisher and was adapted into a so-so, too Hollywoody film. The Adjustment is a fine novel, but maybe its lack of moral compass and distasteful protagonist made it too commercially risky. Who knows, but I'm hoping this book reaches the audience who will dig it.


George said...

I like your notion of "preemptive strike." I'll be looking for Scott Phillip's work now.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks, George. Phillips's also has a dystopian novel (as an e-book) titled, RUT. I haven't read it but I've heard good reports.

Lake Mills Library said...

I did not read your post because I have this in my queue. I've enjoyed all of Phillip's work since stumbling upon it when living in KS.

I found ICE HARVEST in my wife's library in a Wichita suburb. Libraries are usually pretty good at supporting local authors. Unfortunately, this means libraries will often accept anything from a local guy. Because of that I was hesitant to try out HARVEST but am quite glad that I did.

RUT is good. Heck I'll mail you my copy if you want.

Gerard Saylor said...

Dang it. That used my work log-in. Pretend it is this name.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks, Gerard. You can probably safely read the post -- no spoilers (maybe one important plot point revealed, but it happens early). Re, RUT: eventually, I'll probably load it on my Kindle (which I just got) -- easier than the mail. But thanks!

Ben said...

Phillips is a fearless writer and what he doesn't get in popularity right now, he will gain in renown in the future.

Great review. Many me want to check it out.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks, Ben(oit) [not sure how you go]. Phillips may be that kind of writer -- cult following, passionate fans, but not as popular because of moral unease. Great for readers like us, but less good for Phillips's bottom line and ability to gain readers, shelf space, etc. (not that I want to devolve to market considerations).