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93 Reviews
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clevenger Twists a Winner - but not for grandma
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...
Published on September 12, 2002 by Marty in Southern California

versus
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous and yet flawed
Along with many other "Contortionist" readers I was drawn to the book from being a fan of Chuck Palahniuk's. Despite what other reviewers have said, I find Clevenger's style to be unique. His style is much less repetitive and more descriptive than Palahniuk's. I enjoyed certain portions of the "Contortionist." Most specifically chapter 11, which I found to be the...
Published on April 18, 2005 by MVN


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clevenger Twists a Winner - but not for grandma, September 12, 2002
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On my top 5 list now, September 26, 2003
By 
This review is from: The Contortionist's Handbook (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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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's in a Name?, May 24, 2004
By 
Gary C. Marfin (Sugar Land, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Contortionist's Handbook (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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars whoa! great first novel., September 12, 2002
By 
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
5.0 out of 5 stars What fresh hell is this?, August 18, 2003
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. In John's words, "...a thousand moments with Natalie blasted through my memory like a pillow torn open in a high wind."
(Note: Don't judge a book by its cover. Some readers picked up this extraordinary novel because of the cover; I almost overlooked this gem because the cover led me to a different conclusion about the contents...no matter, by the end of the first page, I was hooked.)
A few years ago, when the hip, irreverent Brett Easton Ellis hit the literary scene, the young author was an immediate star, a drug-speak party boy who was the darling of his niche in popular fiction, mixing with the denizens of the drug culture, cruising the spoiled-little-rich-kid LA party circuit. Less Than Zero offered a glimpse into that dangerous/seductive world of decadence, unspoiled by red lines of infected needle tracks or jonesing so bad, his couture slacks were urine-stained and stinking. Even the corpses looked good by the time they were transferred to film. But, like his tragic young junkies, victims of their own excess and too much money, Ellis' talent washed away as fast as cocaine stayed legal, eaten alive by his own PR machine. Worst of all, Ellis disrespected his audience, laughing all the way to the bank on the misogynistic profits of American Psycho.
In contrast, Craig Clevenger is the real deal, a writer's writer, who buys his experience the hard way and high-fiving the street folks who live down and dirty, gliding along one notch below visibility. A true "contortionist", Clevenger has shelf life. Luan Gaines/2003.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a cause for cerebration, yes cerebration., December 24, 2003
By 
"sobriquettte" (The lovely suburbs around Washington DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Contortionist's Handbook (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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will read more than once!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, July 12, 2004
By 
Ryan P Henry "MerseyMan" (Greeley, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Contortionist's Handbook (Paperback)
I rarely write reviews...especially about books due to the fact that I'm very very picky about which books I read. I found that with the Contortionists Handbook I was reading slower toward the end because I didn't want to finish the book...especially without another of Clevenger's to read. I was truly astounded as to how amazing this book was. The only reason I wrote this review is to tell you not to take the advice of any negative reviews...this WILL be one the best books you will EVER read.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clevenger's genius rivals that of his main character, January 3, 2003
By A Customer
It has been a long time since I've gotten so excited about a book. While I was just pages into this novel, I knew that I had discovered something rare and wonderful - a gem among books - which now ranks in my top three favorite novels of all time.
It was a short excerpt that originally inspired me to buy this book. Clevenger's style is crisp and clever, while still managing to remain sincere. It's hip without being cold. There's a highly appealing rhythmic quality to his prose and he manages a series of technical descriptions without ever making the reader feel bogged down.
The Publisher's Weekly comment about this book being "underplotted" is one of the most ludicrous judgments I've seen in print, surely written by an aging woman with a fondness for Emily Dickenson and The Bronte sisters, a writer who obviously did not "get" Clevenger. In fact, his prose is so full of tension that reading a single paragraph is like racing downward on a roller coaster ride.
Kudos to Clevenger! I only wish I had written this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars craig hits one out of the park!, October 11, 2002
Having known Craig from the "prior high-tech industry life" mentioned in the jacket, I always wondered what would spring forth from his insanely creative mind if left to it's own devices- but 'The Contortionist's Handbook' far exceeds my wildest expectations. It doesn't feel like a debut novel in the least, but of a voice that's been keenly refined over years and is only just now being committed to press and shared with the world at large.
A visceral tornado of a thrill-ride through the mind and machinations of it's protagonist, John Dolan Vincent, I couldn't put 'TCH' down, and in fact stayed up until the wee hours of the morning so I didn't have to. The meticulous attention to detail in this book shows clearly in every chapter, and in every page. My sincerest and loudest kudos to Craig and this novel- I can't wait to get my hands on his next novel.
Highly recommended!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Contortionist's Handbook, August 31, 2003
By A Customer
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise...this is a dark book and not for the faint of heart. But if you're hooked after the first few pages, you're in it for the long haul. Who knows? You might just pull an all nighter and read it in one sitting (and you won't be the first one). I have met Craig, and I know that he labored over this first novel, and it truly shows. I was completely blown away by the incredible detail in the story. In fact, it's so well written that it blurs the line between fact and fiction. Whatever the case, Craig did some serious research of some gritty material to pull this book off.
His main character, John Vincent, lives his entire life running from and dodging his own emotional and physical pain. And I mean deep, deep pain. But despite (or because of?) the truly dark life of this character, Craig's book shines. He is a gifted writer...his style is uniquely his own...and as someone else mentioned in their review, certain sentences and paragraphs are so well crafted that you can't help but reread them for their ultimate appreciation. It's hard to articulate, but there is something unusual about Craig's book...something that I didn't expect. On the surface the book is all of these things: smart, disturbing, calculating, shocking, heart-breaking, sordid, clever and sad. But beneath all of these layers, there is this main character with this will to live fueled by a thimble full of hope resulting from this love for a girl we'll call Molly. Picture a pitch black box with only a pin hole of light...(Molly)...that's this guys life. I can honestly say, I have never read a book quite like it. True, true, true.
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The Contortionist's Handbook
The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger (Paperback - September 15, 2003)
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