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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
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
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 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, if you're not paying. March 25 2004
Format:Paperback
A timeline is needed to assist my evaluation of this book. First three pages, I thought, "This is bad. I'm going to not read it," which was promptly followed by, on page four, "Whoa! This just got interesting." It stayed this way until page 128, where I concluded, "This was interesting, but now it's just too much of the same thing," and, seventy-one pages later, I was finished. The book was entertaining yet repetitive, but it was short enough that by the time it started getting dull I was twenty pages away from finishing.
The book is just a 199-page character sketch about a man that makes counterfeit documents and changes his identity frequently whenever his life gets complicated. Often, these complications are caused by accidental drug overdoses that are inflicted upon the main character when he tries to remedy some severe migraines that occur infrequently but, when they do, are incredibly painful and long lasting.

Such an overdose lands the protagonist in an evaluation with a psychiatrist, which is where the book takes place, alternating between flashbacks and real time. It's entertaining to read about how the forger's experiences molded him into the character he is and how his skills improved, and it's also amusing to read about the character's attempt to outwit the psychiatrist, but that's all the book is.
It's repetitive and ultimately unfulfilling, but it all happens so quickly that there's little time to complain. I'd recommend getting this book from a library or a friend, but it's not worth buying. As a first novel, it shows promise. Maybe in his next book, Craig Clevenger will write about a subject he knows well and it will be more interesting. Or maybe he'll write about robots, ninjas, and pirates fighting on the moon, which would also be interesting.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Move along. Nothing new to see here... March 23 2004
By Paul
Format:Paperback
Of course Chuck Palahniuk thinks this book is "...the best book I have read in easily five years. Easily. Maybe ten years," as the front cover states. The Contortionist's Handbook is a lot like Palahniuk's works. Clevenger has got Palahniuk's youthful agression, a main character who is jaded to the brink of insanity, (...) sex, drug usage, and even his stylistic tendency for repetition and the use of the word "you".
(...)
TCH is the same old, same old. The only thing really seperating its main character, John, from every other mentally-confused counterfeiting prodigy is his sixth finger. The love story is a bit lame. The drug usage does nothing to add to your supposed sympathy of John. And some of the dialogue among John and the underground crime ring which he ends up with is just plain B-mafia-movie.
Although, Clevenger does have the ability to create some beautiful images and settings. His attention to details brings forth the grit and the confusion of John's life. If only he had some more substantial characters to work with...
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit disappointing....
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. Read more
Published on April 16 2012 by lorie
5.0 out of 5 stars thanks!
Arrived on time and in great condition! Over all I give it 5 stars! Thank you so much. Would buy from again.
Published on Sept. 29 2011 by Susan C. Guderyan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, they've got to put this back into print.
Loved this book, a real page turner, can't wait to read his next one, Dermaphoria, which is in the mail.
Published on July 25 2010 by Beer and Nachos
2.0 out of 5 stars Got the idea after the first character break down
After reading so much hype, I placed a special order to get this book as it was out of stock everywhere. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2007 by H. R. Miscellaneous
5.0 out of 5 stars Contorte this!
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. Read more
Published on July 9 2004 by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book
Clevenger's a real writer to watch out for (gee, that sounds like a blurb.
Published on June 28 2004 by Brendan T. Mackey
4.0 out of 5 stars What's in a Name?
The polydactyl protagonist of this exceptional novel is working hard to evade everyone, not least himself. Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by Gary C. Marfin
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books I have ever read in my entire life
DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME AND MONEY!!! I picked up this book because i was intrigued by the premise and happend to hear about the author through a certain writer's website. Read more
Published on May 21 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars This was a great book!
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... Read more
Published on April 8 2004 by Erin
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