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Dermaphoria Hardcover – October 9, 2005

47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clevenger's second novel (after 2002's The Contortionist's Handbook) opens with a classic grabber: an amnesiac man awakes in jail with a woman's name—Desiree—on his lips. Prodded by a pushy police detective, that man (his name is Eric Ashworth, he's told) must sift through the contents of his drug-addled brain to explain his only memory: "A ball of fire rising from a flaming house. Nails melting like slivers of silent wax. Beams and shingles collapsing into a pile of burning dust...." Released on bail, Eric checks into a flophouse and attempts to separate his ongoing drug hallucinations from reality. To aid him in this quest he turns to the doubtful promise of yet another drug, a powerful hallucinogen known on the street as Skin, Cradle or Derma. Eric's trip toward understanding, as well as the reader's, twists through exotic visions that may or not be real. It's a long, painful process, but eventually Eric puts it all together and learns who he is—and the terrible thing that he's done. This is a sometimes brilliant, heavily stylized novel whose psychedelic prose and labyrinthine story line will enthrall some readers and enrage others. At one point Clevenger counsels both Eric and the reader: "Anything is possible and nothing is possible. They're the same thing." Yes, that's it exactly. (Oct.)
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Review

...reminiscent of William Gibson's work, but Clevenger has his own attitude and a film-noirish literary style that is unique. -- San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 2005

Clevenger’s trademark voice and pace are as good as ever, but the settings are his greatest triumph. -- Santa Barbara Independent, October 6, 2005

Dermaphoria advances Clevenger’s dark art, powerfully evoking the paranoia of a man attempting to reconstruct his life. -- San Francisco Magazine, November 2005

Gloriously shifty puzzle-fiction whose resolution is much less important than the kaleidoscopic journey towards it. -- Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2005
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing; 1st edition (October 9, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931561753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931561754
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Texas and grew up in Southern California. After years of dead-end jobs and publishers' rejections, I stumbled into the pre-dot.com tech world where I spent the next decade paying my rent on time, eating regularly and not putting pen to paper for anything creative. In 2000, I pulled the plug on my techno-rat race to resume writing. Currently living in San Francisco, at work on a third novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Roger on April 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What an experience. Dermaphoria has easily jumped into my top ten novels list. The writing is pure brilliance, the words had an instantaneous impact on my mental and physical state of being. At times I think I hallucinated, and had to reread sections to convince myself that what I read was real.

Freakin' amazing, I don't know how else to say it. I'm going to push this book hard on people -- it deserves to be read by everyone, if only to show them the power that words can have when used by a master. I enjoyed this even more than The Contortionist's Handbook, and that is no small feat.

If you enjoyed Dermaphoria or The Contortionist's Handbook, you may also like the works of Will Christopher Baer. Thank you Craig!
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Format: Hardcover
Eric Ashworth, creative chemist, with a touch of entrepreneurial genius and a craving for exotic drugs, awakens in an L.A. jail, badly burned, thinking he's in Hell. He has amnesia. Poor guy can only remember the name "Desiree," but cannot recollect who or what the moniker is attached to. His knack for remembering past experiences is so shot, in fact, that the first cop he speaks with has to tell him his own name.

Eric's learned memory is also effected. He is able to recall some chemical formulas, the concept of profit and loss, and still possesses a minor ability to devise better ways to zone people out through the wonders of modern chemistry. However, he had been "unique" before the lab explosion, and the overdose that erased eight seconds worth of his gray matter. Ashworth is "irreplaceable" to those who hired him. He had possessed brilliance - the ability, perhaps, to cure diseases like cancer. Instead he chose to design and produce recreational drugs. Discovered and backed by big bucks from an underworld honcho, Eric and his multitude of skills went to work, producing and distributing drugs. He received, and still does, dire threats from a toady thug and his retarded, violent son as to what they will do to him if he blows the job - literally and figuratively.

There is an image that occasionally flashes across his mind. "A ball of fire, half the size of the house itself rose to the sky. Beautiful." "Between the flash and the roar, there wasn't any space at all."

Ashworth's lawyer, whom he doesn't remember meeting, bails him out of the clink and takes him to a low rent dive, Hotel Firebird, Room 621, where his neighbors are pimps, whores, buyers, sellers, and lots of bugs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. M. S on June 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
To any sort of hard drug, you MUST read this book.

A shockingly large improvement in writing style and story development since his last book (Contortionist's Handbook, which is also excellent). Dermaphoria is a love story, and an epic coming of age piece all rolled into one. Maintaining a clear style despite a clouded narrator's perspective and using ever sharpening wit, Clevenger does well keeping the reader in tune with the story as the narrator races to bring back memories lost in a lab accident while being pursued simultaneously by the police and the group that funded the drug lab that blew his memory to smithereens. While slowly revealing how all this happened Clevenger gracefully shifts in and out of ponderings on the morality and philosophy of drug use. A must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy NeeDLE on June 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Captivating diction, brilliant imagery, and I especially love the jaded & cynical monologue of the protagonist. Clevenger effectively brings the real mechanics of paranoia to the forefront of the reader's attention; and not in a stupid or adolescent manner. He brings you into the fear and sickness, the world falling apart around you. The enemy always watching, the codes they speak, the patterns they manipulate into your reality.

He makes me want to throw out all my manuscripts and never write again. Terribly jealous, esp w/ the use of bugs & chemistry as the metaphors for reality breakdown.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jose Jones on March 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like many other reviewers here, I was a big fan of Clevenger's "The Contortionist's Handbook." I think Clevenger has become a better writer since penning that tale, but in "Dermaphoria" he often gets lost in his own language and seems to be trying a little too hard to be "deep" and opaque. It's a shame so much of the book is overwritten, because when he's not straining his muscles, the book is often brilliant and arresting. The less stylized sections of the book -- usually the ones driving the story along -- reveal what an excellent author Clevenger is. The story finds a drug chemist whose memory is gone after the explosion of his lab. His journey back to what brought him there is a sometimes Lynchian, drug-addled nightmare trip of confusion and paranoia. (The book reminded me quite a bit of "A Scanner Darkly.")

Clevenger is probably one of the best authors around who can precisely detail the subversive, underground world of crime. There's an authenticity and ease with which he heaps on details, creating a world similar to reality, but better than reality.

One thing I have to say for "Dermaphoria" is that I've never read a book that better conveys drug-aided paranoia better. For anyone who's ever spent a scary, whacked-out week locked in a room, head spinning, thinking every crack in the wall hid the peering eye of a spy, you will be given a fresh flashback by Clevenger's prose. "Neurotransmitters fire in a symphony code, blood rushes to lobes working in concert to form a given thought, making for cranial hot spots that show up on thermographs taken by black helicopters and stuffed elk heads." Yeah, it's like that.
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