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The Contortionist's Handbook Hardcover – September 1, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage; First Edition edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193156115X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931561150
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,178,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clevenger's debut novel is a well-crafted but underplotted character study of a brilliant, damaged man who struggles with mental illness and substance abuse as he bounces in and out of prison and a series of hospitals around Los Angeles. Most of the novel takes place in the latter setting; some tense early scenes pit protagonist John Dolan Vincent against a psychiatrist known as "The Evaluator," who probes Vincent's psyche to see if his recent overdose of muscle relaxants was really a botched attempt to cure his migraine, as Vincent claims, or a suicide attempt. The twist is that Vincent has checked into the hospital under an assumed name; after each of his previous overdoses he has changed his identity to avoid being placed in a mental hospital. The psychiatric interview provides a decent vehicle for telling the story of Vincent's difficult family life and his decision to use his mathematical talent to assist a murky criminal network. The trouble is that Clevenger has little to offer to push his story forward besides Vincent's efforts to protect Keadra, the woman he falls in love with during a hospital stint, from the thugs who are trying to track him down. Clevenger is a solid writer who does some good work when it comes to creating a noirish atmosphere and smart, compelling characters, but the pace is uneven at best. The quality of the writing warrants a follow-up effort; hopefully, Clevenger will know what to do with his characters the next time around.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

John Vincent was born with an extra ring finger on one hand. To his constantly broke, jail-bound father, this was just something John had to live with. After years of ridicule by other children, his father gave him a magic book through which he learned some slight-of-hand tricks that helped him conceal his disfigurement from others. That, together with a sharp mind and a knack for replicating signatures and official documents, started John on a path of petty crime. Then he started getting inexplicable and untreatable migraines, which led to a history of drug abuse. As John started going in and out of hospitals for drug overdoses, he deftly learned how to change identities. This life of identity theft, drugs, and crime continues in a downward spiral, until he falls in love and meets his match. He starts to question his own identity, after rejecting it for so long, which eventually leads to some redemption. Clevenger cleverly creates a modern-day Mr. Ripley. Michael Spinella
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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 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

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  • "Writing" 19
  • "Characters" 14
  • "Suspense" 3
  • "Funny" 2
  • "Influential" 1
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Marty in Southern California on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The title and cover art grabbed my attention over the numerous new releases on the front table. Picked it up, read only half of the first page before I closed the book - and walked to counter to slap down the cash (...).
Hooked via our main man and leading character "Johnny"- a brilliant bit of work by the author, I sprinted through this one in two sittings. That's fast for me and my A.D.D. Granted, the plot deserved a bit more attention but The Contortionist is really about the maneuverings of character. And the ways in which Johnny twists, and manipulates and suffers in his longing for love and connection will not be forgotten.
Buy it or borrow it, but definitely read it.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Gary C. Marfin on May 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
The polydactyl protagonist of this exceptional novel is working hard to evade everyone, not least himself. He is a masterful teacher, and this book will take you into the art of false identification (at least I take the book as a valid description) from passports, to birth and death certificates, and all the myriad of data points that converge to define an individual in the modern world. One of the published reviews on this web site claimed that it suffered from a lack of plot, but I think the review somewhat misses the driving force in this novel -- it is not trying to save his girlfriend, Keara, nor is it trying to trick the "evaluator,"; rather, he's trying to evade himself. We are in the world of "head games" here, so it's a bit wide of the mark to compare this to a Tarrantino action/plot drive. In this handbook, it is the self on contorted display.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Golliher on September 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a read! If you like to think and immerse yourself in a character and great story then this is your book. The dialogue is compelling and moves the story forward without turgid details. The monologues are honest, moving and interesting albeit dark in some sections. The characters are well developed, introduced well and true to their nature.
I'm not an avid reader of modern fiction ... find the stories to be the same old regurgitated soup with the same old bread and stale crackers ... THIS BOOK IS GOOD. If you've come this far, don't cheat yourself, buy the damn thing. You will not be disappointed.
Fantastic book Craig ... I can't wait for the next installment!!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "jetcityorange" on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Great read. Had the pleasure of doing it in 3 sessions. A well constructed and suspense-filled plot. Hangs together while challenging you to pay attention. (And yes, you have to; it's worth it!)
Without giving away the plot or the ending, think "Memento" or "The Usual Suspects". No thow-away trash novel, this is a thinking person's book. It tends to stick with you after you put it down.
The detail adds dimension. The main character is a trip. (note to self: never hire him as a babysitter.) Layers of stuff going on throughout.
What's amazing is that this is Clevenger's first novel. Notes say he's working on second and I for one can't wait. When's the movie coming out?
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Clevenger's "man of a thousand faces" is young, adaptable and a genius with spatial configurations. He is an artist, a forger of documents, with a degree of precision that guarantees success seldom achieved in a risky business. In a psychological minefield, this modern-day urban MASH is a stunning accomplishment.
There is no truth in John Dolan Vincent's life, only change. Neither victim nor apologist, Vincent is an addict, a con and a forger. These days he is driven by the need to escape from one identity to another, pursued by the "system" and some thugs who dig his exceptional talent and want to keep him nearby. The periodic migraine is Vincent's true nemesis. Once the horrific pain hits, John plunges over the edge of common sense into blind panic, indiscriminately downing illegal painkillers and booze. Unfortunately, he usually loses track and overdoses, saved by the quick response of emergency services.
Hence, the need for multiple identities. Once in the system, if listed as a patient previously flagged as a suicide risk, he would automatically be a candidate for mandatory 72-hour observation, or longer, and massive infusions of mind-numbing Thorazine. In this latest incarnation, Vincent is "Daniel Fletcher", running one step ahead of the other guy's synapses during the psychiatric evaluation/assessment. A self-admitted "contortionist", Vincent morphs identities the way a real contortionist changes shape.
John's personal life is complicated as well. One of the most likeable characters in recent memory, John tells all, holds nothing back from the reader. Women, sex and drugs blend together, depending on the amount of recreational drugs in his system at any given time, in one potent cocktail you just can't stop drinking, shooting out existential visuals of Heaven/Hell.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "sobriquettte" on December 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I can count the number of stars this book deserves on one hand. If I were like Clevenger's narrator I'd give it six stars.
This book was so well constructed that without even realizing it I found myself taking notes throughout my reading. When the marginalia exceeded the space allotted, another notebook was brought out. It's rare when a novel engages you in such an embracive manner.
Clevenger has a way with language that is not seen much in modern fiction. He combines succinct statements with sensual details so effortlessly that the reader becomes utterly immersed in the story being told. It's also evident that the man has done his research. Clevenger makes damn sure that his characters are multi-faceted and erudite. John Vincent not only makes us care about his predicament, but he also makes us willing accomplices to his endeavors.
Stylistically, the techniques employed in this novel may not be original, but Clevenger's voice certainly is. His prose is extremely visual, and it's easy to see why this book has already been optioned for a movie. There are also minute details and a distinct sardonic humor woven throughout the text, making a second or third reading a must, and if possible, even more enjoyable. Johnny's argus-eyed observations and the underlying romantic theme of this story kept me enthralled throughout every reading.
Clevenger is a luminary; an underground modern day noir legend in the literary world. The Contortionist Handbook is a rara avis and I look forward to seeing on what journey Dermaphoria takes us.
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