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The Contortionist's Handbook [Paperback]

Craig Clevenger
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 24 2003
A forger must con his way out of a mental institution.

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Product Description

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit disappointing.... April 16 2012
By lorie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was looking so foreword to reading this book after Chuck Palahnuik stated it was on of the best books he has read in a decade.
I suppose I set my expectations too high. I thought the book would have more depth and substance, but honestly the main character kind of fell flat for me. I neither liked him nor hated him, just felt ambivalent about him. The book does have some interesting stories woven into it, but it is definitely not as great as one would expect it to be, after such a glowing Palahnuik review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth A Look! June 21 2005
Format:Paperback
This book is about a guy who has terrible headaches. He takes obscene amounts of all the best drugs to try and shut out the effects of these aches. Usually this ends up with him in the hospital being revived or sedated. After an incident like that a social worker is assigned to interview him to and decide if he is sane and can be released or if he needs to be turned over to the custody of the state. As luck would have it our "contortionist" is a forgery wiz and creates a new identity every time his current persona gets into a sticky situation. The story flashes back during a social worker interview, and ties together nicely with funny moments through out the entire book. Its an interesting read and it seems that Clevenger (the author) has a background in the field. But he is probably just a good writer. The Contortionist's Handbook is terrific read. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend, as others have, is the comic novel, "The Losers Club: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, a fast, darkly funny novel with short chapters and a goofy light touch, kind of like "High Fidelity." So definitely my top 2 Amazon recommendations are The Contortionist's Handbook and The Losers' Club -- you won't be bored.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will read more than once!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! July 12 2004
Format: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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars almost perfect April 16 2004
Format:Paperback
this book definitely hooked me in right away. one of those books you wish you could read straight through ignoring the rest of your life for awhile. i found it very very well-written. there were weaknesses: i agree with another reviewer that the love story part was a bit sappy as well as the crime-mob dialogue. but i found the character himself really intriguing. that line "sometimes i can be so smart and sometimes i can be so stupid" sums him up. i really did feel like i was privy to the thoughts of this incredibly intelligent man who is missing some really really obvious stuff. he's devised the most complicated solution possible to his problem but he WORKS that solution so well, is so focused on that solution that its never occurred to him to try a different angle. and really his adopted solution makes perfect sense with respect to his background. i was a bit disappointed that he actually did break out of his one-track view at the end. i think it would have been a more interesting ending if he had stayed on his complex little hampster-wheel...
anyway.. definitely a promising writer. i'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was a great book! April 8 2004
By Erin
Format:Paperback
I will not go into what the book is about or what goes on in it. I am not that type of reviewer. I borrowed this book from a friend and thought it was well written and the subject matter made it even more interesting, and it just got better and better. I never write reviews but really loved this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars thanks! Sept. 29 2011
Format:Hardcover
Arrived on time and in great condition! Over all I give it 5 stars! Thank you so much. Would buy from again.
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Format:Paperback
Loved this book, a real page turner, can't wait to read his next one, Dermaphoria, which is in the mail.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Contorte this! July 9 2004
Format:Hardcover
I heard about this book from chuckpalahniuk.net. Then I read the first 37 pages on this website, then I just had to buy the book.
I loved learning about how he gets his fake identities and how he realises he's happy(at least that's how I'm taking it) at the end.
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