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Dermaphoria Hardcover – October 9, 2005
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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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...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
Clevengers trademark voice and pace are as good as ever, but the settings are his greatest triumph. -- Santa Barbara Independent, October 6, 2005
Dermaphoria advances Clevengers 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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Overall, interesting read. Would recommend to fans of noir. This review appeared on my blog in a different form.
It was decades ago, experimenting with psychedelics, when my mind first opened to questioning and pondering the nature of reality. In Dermaphoria reality, as filtered through experience, memory, and hallucenogens, is hauntingly ambiguous.
Mankind's insatiable desiring/proclivity toward addiction, also a theme of DFW's brilliant "Infinite Jest" is beautifully articulated in chapter ten, IE:
" Every identical act is distinguished by its intent and every intent is judged by its action...Everything in the universe is everything else. A man is a killer is a saint is a monkey is a cockroach is a goldfish is a whale, and the Devil is just an angel who asked for MORE."
"Doomed and destined to forever want the closest thing beyond our grasp, we fled the trees and stood on our hind legs..." We were hardwired for desire, and our wanting drove us to evolve, so we evolved wanting...Mans nature has been set to be unsatisfied."
Every drink, every roll of the dice or second glance at a woman whispers MORE into a man;s ear when he's not listening to that one god, when he's looking where, or thinking what, he should not. I've spent my life giving people their MORE. I'm a chemist."
Dermasphoria" is not for the feint of heart, not light reading. For thoughtful readers,It is a book to be savored, highlighted, and re-reread. Sad commentary, however that I purchased it here for $0.01 and with only 50 reviews, The typical listing from the James Patterson novel mill receives several thousand. The mind boggles.
That might work splendidly if you were reading a poetry book. But in a fiction book, it's a major drawback. There's very little actual plot in here. It's true what one reviewer said about it being a written visual effect. That's exactly what it is, a 20-page short story stretched to 200 pages by mind-bending descriptions of drug trips. I can somewhat see where the author was going with it; one of his obvious goals is to confuse the reader and make us unsure whether what we're reading is reality or a hallucination. But it simply did not work for me. The imagery of Dermaphoria is dense, convoluted, and jam-packed with metaphors, but it hinders the reading experience instead of enhancing it.
I didn't exactly hate it, so I can't either recommend or not recommend it. All I can say is that it's not for everyone. I definitely admit that Clevenger's got a serious writing talent. I'll be giving him another try in the future.
What I most enjoyed about this story were 1) the great sensitivity of the main character; 2) the brilliant & concise writing style and 3) Clevenger's mastery of metaphorical writing, which I admire greatly. He uses this style to its greatest effect & better than any writer I have read. What makes his metaphors stand out is that they are completely unique which makes their impact that much greater.
I found the story to be interesting as well, although a little bit confusing. But that is to be somewhat expected with stories that blur the line between reality and the imagination. By the book's end, I felt that I understood correctly what had occurred, but maybe not. And maybe that is part of the mastery of this story.
I am greatly looking forward to the film version of this book, which is currently in production. It will be very interesting to see how many of the books ideas & visuals-whether real or imagined- are played out onscreen.