The Adjustment, the long-awaited new novel from Scott Phillips, is the story of Wayne Ogden, a former supply sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps trying to slip back into regular life in Wichita, Kansas after blackmarketeering and pimping across the European Theater during WWII. Though his current title may be that of PR man for Collins Aircraft, his actual duties lean more towards that of a bag man and pussy-provider for the big man himself, Everett Collins.
It’s a pretty sweet gig, giving him ample excuses to avoid his lonely, newly pregnant bride Sally in the evening hours to drink and whoremonger with his boss, but Ogden remains restless for the heady, violent days of his war-time mini-empire overseas. So when a mysterious man starts sending him “I know what you did during the war” letters and Collins needs help fighting off the board members of Collins Aircraft who want him out on his boozy, whoring, Hycodan-addicted ass, Ogden jumps at both problems with a little too much sociopathic gusto.
Long-time Phillips readers will recognize Wayne Ogden from his prominent role in The Walkaway and relish the opportunity to spend a whole book with his heartless ass. Wayne is Phillips’ greatest creation, a character who always gets what he wants through his cunning and balls while never making it look too hard. His motivations rarely seem to rise above the excitement of the transgressive action itself, because though he may enjoy money, sex and drink, and though he may sorta like the idea of a wife and kid and a home, no long term goals decadence-, domestic- or career-wise seem to truly mean shit to him.
Though the book’s title refers to the adjustment men had to make post-WWII to get back into civilian life (and many are the examples throughout of men who can’t hack it) we eventually come to wonder whether Wayne was really changed by the war or just learned to, let’s say, express himself better after having lived (and thrived) through it.
Like all Phillips novels, you never know where The Adjustment is going and the storytelling is nothing less than completely compelling. Phillips makes you yearn to learn more about any one of the many minor characters that appear in the novel, from the homeliest B-girl to the sharpest-eyed hotel dick, with just a few quick lines of dialogue or description. His period details are always fascinating but never digressive and he captures in Ogden’s first-person voice both the character’s amoral worldview and his sick sense of humor.
If you’re not familiar with Phillips’ Wichita novels featuring the Ogden family (which includes The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway and Cottonwood) then The Adjustment is a great place to start catching up with some of my favorite novels of the last decade. If you’ve got your shit together and have already read the aforementioned three novels, then it’ll come as no surprise to you that The Adjustment the best novel I’ve read all year.