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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Your sleeping breath brushes my face and blows the ashes from my memory."
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...
Published on October 10, 2005 by Jana L. Perskie

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3.0 out of 5 stars If this was poetry...
...it would be a wonderful book. Unfortunately, it's fiction. The vivid descriptions in this book are sometimes beautiful and haunting, other times terrifying. The writing is not the a "stream consciousness" type thing. It's very obvious that the author has crafted each and every sentence with utmost love and care. Some of them are interesting and beautiful enough to...
Published on May 8, 2010 by Fallout Girl


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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Your sleeping breath brushes my face and blows the ashes from my memory.", October 10, 2005
This review is from: Dermaphoria (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. I gather from the psychedelic narrative that the bugs are both the creepy crawly kind that bite, (occasionally painted in day-glo colors - or viewed through day-glo colored retinas), and also the kind people wear taped to their bodies - "tapeworms." Eric samples a mysterious new drug called "Skin," "Cradle," or "Derma" that synthesizes the sensations of touch, and allows him to time-travel inside his skull for weeks. Due to Skin, or the slow, inevitable return of his memory, or both, he begins to recall his life as a clandestine criminal chemist and his relationship with Desiree, his fortune telling lover. Perhaps he would have been better-off to have remained an amnesiac.

Craig Clevenger can sure write!! I have highlighted and book-marked phrases and paragraphs throughout the novel to go back and reread. I may not have understood as much about our protagonist as I would have liked, or empathized with him a whole lot at times, but the author's heavily stylized, wired prose is exceptional - no doubt about it! I will say that the parts of the narrative dealing with Ashworth's childhood, his parents and his fear of violent storms is brilliant and very sensitively handled. Other characters are introduced here: fellow residents of Hotel Firebird, Jack and the Beanstalk, their friend Donna, Detective Ainslinger, Manhattan White and his sicko son, even Desiree - but they all just move on by. I'm in Eric's head and everyone else is a blur.

As for the storyline, the reader is carried along on sheer manic energy, at times moving with the beat and allowing meaning to rush past - like some terrific 60's acid rock song - or trip. (My age is showing!). I am glad Mr. Clevenger kept the page number at 212. I couldn't have run with him much farther. But it was a really good trip.

I am reminded here of Will Christopher Baer's "Kiss Me Judas." Although I like the character of ex-cop Phineas Poe more than Eric Ashworth, I am sure if the two ever met, they'd get along very well. I bet their respective creators would also.

I have not read "The Contortionist's Handbook" but plan on doing so soon. Craig Clevenger is extremely talented and I hope his new novel does as well as it should, based on merit! Kudos!
JANA
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the finest and edgiest authors writing today., April 26, 2006
This review is from: Dermaphoria (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If anyone close to you has been addicted..., June 5, 2008
This review is from: Dermaphoria (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
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely brilliant, June 3, 2007
By 
Jeremy NeeDLE (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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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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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Speak to the Token Man. Ask for Desiree.", October 7, 2005
This review is from: Dermaphoria (Hardcover)
When he wakes up in a hospital jail surrounded by beeping machines and a determinedly friendly detective, Eric Ashworth remembers nothing. He recalls sensations, images, fireflies and a name, Desiree, but without any context. Later, somewhat on the mend, Eric is ensconced in the Hotel Firebird, Room 621, but, "Jail moves with me, an invisible box surrounding my every step with every tick of the clock." His paranoia accelerates, information temporarily buried in a damaged mind; he sees microprocessors in insects, "umbrella men" following his every move, yet is unable to resist the urges of a demanding brain for more, more, more.

His memory returns in snatches, between doses of drugs that bring him ever closer to the brink of fragmented recall. Eric Ashworth is an uber-chemist, able to recreate any formula, tweaking and adjusting, improving the quality of the high. Working for professionals willing to pay for his expertise, Eric demands a certain level of competence in his labs, only too aware that carelessness can erase his work in a fiery ball. Eric understands it all, manufacturing, R and D, distribution, sales and marketing. And he realizes "the best batch wouldn't go anywhere in the world without a good name". Hence, Diesel Blockers, Straight Eights, Road Dogs, Green Berets, Mad hatters and White Rabbits, an endless stream of top quality uppers and mood changers, eagerly consumed by a voracious public. His latest creation, Derma, or Skin, brings the user close to God, in raucous demand. Not a problem for Ashworth, the consummate chemist, a genius at refining the essence of the drug du jour in mass quantities.

The author's knowledge of pharmacological detail is impressive, the fine art of cooking, drugs as important in this novel as in his first excellent fiction, The Contortionist's Handbook. But Eric lacks the depth and passion of Clevenger's first protagonist, lost in a haze of drug-induced confusion that moves between fantasy and reality, mixing the two, characters real and imagined but without much substance beyond his imagination. Accurately detailed and written with the passion of a lit match poised to light a rising layer of ether, this world of phantoms carries its own harsh fate. The faceless men who people this lucrative market are expendable, but Eric is not, his unusual talent making him a marked man. Trapped in the cacophony of his own thoughts, Eric fuels the rush of memory with ever higher doses of Derma, accelerating a harsh awakening as fact separates from fiction. Faced with the inevitable results of his chemical euphoria, Eric's lucidity waxes and wanes, until both love and tragedy are revealed in equal measure, the breadth of his betrayal unbearable. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Past? Present? Drug induced coma? Ah, Dermaphoria!, April 23, 2007
By 
Nathan Grant (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dermaphoria (Paperback)
I'm a Palahniuk fan and therefore thought I should read Clevenger. I enjoyed "Contortionist's Handbooks." "Dermaphoria" was a bit different. His writing style hasn't changed, but reading this book was, at times, like watching "Memento" or "21 Grams" on shuffle.

The first 100 pages is more or less a drug-induced haze. This first half seems to be introducing the reader to the lingo, which is fine in 200 page quick read. After the first 100 pages, then the pace starts to pick up. And what has been happening becomes much more clear.

The only problem for "Eric" is that he's not sure what's real and what is not. Therefore, neither do we. At times, I felt cheated, other times, I felt like I had figured it out. By the end of the book, I was left feeling a bit empty and a tad unsure as to what had happened.

I gave this 4 stars since I enjoyed the ride. I really enjoyed the style and recommend this book to anyone who likes Chuck Palahniuk or this vein of writers. Look for a fast read, but don't look for a lazy read. You have to pay attention and be ready for the twists and turns the plot takes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moves at a manic and psychedelic pace, May 21, 2006
By 
This review is from: Dermaphoria (Hardcover)
Our narrative, Eric Ashworth, awakes in jail with some serious amnesia. All he knows is the name Desiree. Holed up in a flophouse, Eric discovers a drug that can help unravel his past...or does it feed his paranoia? What is truth? Fantasy? Hallucination? Reality? Who can Eric trust? What do people want from him?

Dermaphoria moves at a manic and psychedelic pace. While it is as well-written as Clevenger's The Contortionist's Handbook, it isn't as readable. I found myself copying down numerous beautiful and poignant philosophical passages, but overall, the plot is tough to follow. If you like offbeat fiction, run out and get this book, but if you want a light read, stay away.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not enough of a good thing., March 24, 2006
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This review is from: Dermaphoria (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars *GREAT* Read. Clevenger hits his stride., March 9, 2010
By 
NbleSavage (Teh Interwebs) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dermaphoria (Paperback)
Preface - I thoroughly enjoyed Craig Clevenger's first outing "The Contortionist's Handbook" in spite of what some considered to be a slightly thin plot line and a few intermittent pauses & tangents.

His 2nd book, "Dermaphoria", showcases all of that raw talent which made "Contortionist" so compelling coupled with a refinement that makes this book feel more polished than his first. Clearly Craig Clevenger has hit his stride and is firing on all cylinders in terms of his skills as an author.

"Dermaphoria" presents many of the same elements as "Contortionist" in terms of blurring the line between fantasy and reality within the context of a gritty crime story coupled with an intense character drama (or...maybe it does not? the reader is left to decide...). The set-up (an amnesiac who can't recall anything about his past save for a woman's name - Desiree) has been done before but Clevenger makes it feel fresh and energizes the concept. As characters are introduced who may (or may not...) have knowledge as to the protagonists' history and how he came to be where he is, Clevenger ratchets-up the tension to a boiling point and delivers an extremely satisfying (and appropriate) ending - a good trick considering the many ways in which a lessor author may have copt-out after taking us all the way to 3rd base but then left us panting with a peck on the cheek and a promise to call us the following week.

I quite simply could not put this book down. I've been recommending Clevenger to anyone & everyone I know who will hear me. I really should get a Christmas card from him this year, but I'll instead be thrilled if he'll simply release his long-awaited 3rd book and stop tormenting me with this waiting now that I'm a total fiend for his work.

In summary...I hate you Craig Clevenger....call me?....

Peace.

- Savage
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Dermaphoria" and "You Poor Monster" in the same year!, October 17, 2005
This review is from: Dermaphoria (Hardcover)
I heard about Craig Clevenger through Michael Kun's website, about a year ago. Kun is the author of "The Locklear Letters," and, more recently, the stunning novel "You Poor Monster." A lot of us have Kun to thank for finding Clevenger's "The Contortionist's Handbook" and, now, "Dermaphoria." I just hope that Clevenger's fans find Kun. For these two guys, who apparently are good friends, to each put out a masterpiece within 6 months of each other is just amazing.
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Dermaphoria
Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger (Hardcover - October 9, 2005)
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