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The Contortionist's Handbook PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: The Contortionist's Handbook
Author: Craig Clevenger
Publisher: Published September 24th 2003 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing (first published 2002)
ISBN: 9781931561488
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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John Vincent Dolan is a talented young forger with a proclivity for mathematics and drug addiction. In the face of his impending institutionalization, he continually reinvents himself to escape the legal and mental health authorities and to save himself from a life of incarceration. But running turns out to be costly. Vincent's clients in the L.A. underworld lose patience, John Vincent Dolan is a talented young forger with a proclivity for mathematics and drug addiction. In the face of his impending institutionalization, he continually reinvents himself to escape the legal and mental health authorities and to save himself from a life of incarceration. But running turns out to be costly. Vincent's clients in the L.A. underworld lose patience, the hospital evaluator may not be fooled by his story, and the only person in as much danger as himself is the woman who knows his real name.

30 review for The Contortionist's Handbook

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    It's a good thing I didn't know about Palahniuk's praise of this neat little story before I started reading it, or it may have passed (gotten shoved) under my radar. Come to think of it, I hope I haven't prematurely spoiled any potential entertainment for you, assuming you're like me in that you hear "praise from Chuck Palahniuk!" and it sounds like "Ewww, taste this." No. Ignore that madness. This is a really strong first novel about a master document forger in the 1980's whose skills were hone It's a good thing I didn't know about Palahniuk's praise of this neat little story before I started reading it, or it may have passed (gotten shoved) under my radar. Come to think of it, I hope I haven't prematurely spoiled any potential entertainment for you, assuming you're like me in that you hear "praise from Chuck Palahniuk!" and it sounds like "Ewww, taste this." No. Ignore that madness. This is a really strong first novel about a master document forger in the 1980's whose skills were honed over the years out of necessity. Oh, and by "necessity" I mean that, on top of a rough childhood, he has six fingers on one hand and a pretty major drug and alcohol problem largely resulting from sporadic, somatoform migraines. Self-medicating these maybe real, maybe imagined headaches frequently lands him in the E.R. where he awakes to find himself being interrogated concerning his potential as a suicide risk (i.e. future mental patient). He has memorized medical books, body language cues, and psychiatric manuals in order to dance his way out of these scenarios just long enough to completely change his identity and get to planning his escape from his next overdose or incarceration, depending which one comes first. What do you get when you cross a career criminal-slash-chameleon with the lady of his dreams? Oh, there's no punchline; you're just fucked. This is especially true when your accidental disappearing act has pissed off some organized crime guys who have consistently relied on your forgeries to continue their shadowy affairs, so they try and go all "my name is Inigo Montoya" on your ass. Your once-complicated life is now extremely fucking messy and complicated. So the story rolls on. One of the coolest things about this book is it appeals to that side that I believe most of us have, the "disappear and start over" or "rob a rich badguy at gunpoint and move to Mexico" or "travel all over the world with a ninja sword hacking up all the assassins who I think killed my baby" fantasy. This is normal, yes? I mean, there's exactly zero chance of me succeeding at a life lived by wits and reflexes alone considering that I've actually managed to give myself a second degree burn from a nickel, added to which I sliced my hand open on a clove of garlic just last Saturday. I wish I was kidding, man. Anyway, the methods Clevenger's narrator lays out concerning how to go about completely vanishing and re-emerging all tabula rasa style sound totally plausible to someone who knows not one thing about stealing an identity from a recently deceased person and building a verifiable imaginary history all the way from childhood to present. Not that I encourage law-breaking, but damn would it ever be nice to get those student loan assholes off my case. A girl can read books like this and dream though, right? Right.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Edward Lorn

    I reread this one by way of audiobook. Ray Porter's narration was wonderful. I have no preference over text or audio, though. Read/listen to either; they're equally awesome. The Contortionist's Handbook is not easily categorized or reviewed. It's a tremendous accomplishment, both in terms of research and delivery. I never once questioned whether or not the information in this book was fact or fiction. I simply enjoyed the ride. Those of you that read for fun might find this book monotonous and bo I reread this one by way of audiobook. Ray Porter's narration was wonderful. I have no preference over text or audio, though. Read/listen to either; they're equally awesome. The Contortionist's Handbook is not easily categorized or reviewed. It's a tremendous accomplishment, both in terms of research and delivery. I never once questioned whether or not the information in this book was fact or fiction. I simply enjoyed the ride. Those of you that read for fun might find this book monotonous and boring, so I suggest skipping it. Those of you who enjoy stylish writing that's full of heart, you should adore this little book. There is little to no action inside The Contortionist's Handbook. Most of the novel takes place in Johnny's/Danny's mind as he tries to beat a headshrinker and stay out of the nuthouse after his latest overdose. It's a battle of wits, and you're hanging with the guy who's brought a gun to a knife fight. The psychiatrist is definitely out of Johnny's/Danny's league. Witnessing Danny/Johnny outsmart his "opponent" is big fun and never boring. The writing snaps, crackles, and pops. Craig Clevenger's prose can dice cantaloupe, if you can dig it. There's no filler, no word out of place, no flowery fuckery, only tight writing you can bounce a quarter off. The love story in this book is handled well. There's no insta-love or love triangle bullshit, so if you're tired of those tropes in your fiction, you should enjoy this one. Kyra and Johnny's/Danny's relationship is noteworthy because we're dealing with two emotionally-broken individuals who manage to find each other floating in the tumultuous sea that is life. Let me be very clear, I hate romance, despise love stories of any kind, but this one worked for me. Oh, and don't get me wrong, this isn't a romance book. If anything, I'd call it bleak lit fic. Not really dark, but you shouldn't expect sunshine and rainbows. In summation: This is a helluva smart book. When it first came out, Chuck Palahniuk said it was easily the best book he'd read in five years. Maybe ten. I'd have to agree with him. Since then, there have been better books in the general fiction world, but not many. The Contortionist's Handbook has stayed with me since I read it over a decade ago, and more than withstood a reread. In fact, I would go as far as saying I enjoyed my reread more than my original experience, and I loved this book after that first pass. Final Judgment: My highest possible recommendation... you know, if you dig this kind of thing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ed [Redacted]

    John Vincent is a master forger with eleven fingers, at least as many identities and debilitating migraines. He follows a pattern over the years where he suffers from his migraines until he eventually takes too much medication and is hospitalized, often as a suicide risk. Vincent has made a life of fooling those charged with evaluating the psychological states of patients hospitalized for drug overdoses, and this time he plays a game of cat and mouse with quite a bit more than usual riding on the John Vincent is a master forger with eleven fingers, at least as many identities and debilitating migraines. He follows a pattern over the years where he suffers from his migraines until he eventually takes too much medication and is hospitalized, often as a suicide risk. Vincent has made a life of fooling those charged with evaluating the psychological states of patients hospitalized for drug overdoses, and this time he plays a game of cat and mouse with quite a bit more than usual riding on the outcome. If you were to explain the plot of this book to me a month or two ago I would probably have passed. The plot, however, takes a back seat to the outstanding characterization Clevenger shows in this novel. great characterization and extreme amounts of research into document forgery mixed with a minimalist prose style made this book fast and entirely entertaining. My only quibble is with the ending, which seemed a bit pat to me. This was a fine effort and was well worth the time. 4.5/5

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I don’t know when, where or why I picked this one up, but I have had it sitting around for a long time. I didn’t read the synopsis or any reviews either. I just picked it up one day and started reading. Glad I did. It was surprisingly intelligent. Especially for a debut novel. The writing was clean and had some bite to it here and there. The characterization is what made it though. Very well done. A solid 4+ Stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rae

    I was disappointed with this book. It held me for the first third, then I found it irritating and tedious. The "contortionist" in the title is an accomplished forger, reinventing himself in detail to escape trouble. He takes great care with reproducing pasts in documented, legal detail. He is of superior intellect, beating the legal and healthcare systems at every encounter. He suffers from debilitating migraines and is a substance abuse. As a physician, I was irritated by the author's description I was disappointed with this book. It held me for the first third, then I found it irritating and tedious. The "contortionist" in the title is an accomplished forger, reinventing himself in detail to escape trouble. He takes great care with reproducing pasts in documented, legal detail. He is of superior intellect, beating the legal and healthcare systems at every encounter. He suffers from debilitating migraines and is a substance abuse. As a physician, I was irritated by the author's descriptions of the professionals that he encountered in the mental health profession. Truthfully, an uninsured patient in the US mental health pipeline is unlikely to get ten minutes from a psychiatrist, certainly not an in-depth evaluation as depicted in the book. The whole treatment of the medical side of the book was patchy and misleading. The author had obviously researched migraines and mental health, but there were many holes remaining in the story line. The depiction of the healthcare side of plot detracted from the entertainment value of the book, from my perspective.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Tietz

    Clevenger almost wound up as one of those guys I'd wish people would stop prattling on and on about. "So brilliant." "Such a genius." And I was so incredibly sick of hearing it. "Dermaphoria" was what I ended up cutting me teeth on regarding his work, and I must admit, I found myself struggling through it and wondering what all the fuss was about. That didn't stop me from picking up TCH when I finally found a copy for under $40, or more specifically, when MacAdam/Cage finally pulled their heads out o Clevenger almost wound up as one of those guys I'd wish people would stop prattling on and on about. "So brilliant." "Such a genius." And I was so incredibly sick of hearing it. "Dermaphoria" was what I ended up cutting me teeth on regarding his work, and I must admit, I found myself struggling through it and wondering what all the fuss was about. That didn't stop me from picking up TCH when I finally found a copy for under $40, or more specifically, when MacAdam/Cage finally pulled their heads out of their asses and decided to give the book another print run. A movie deal and high demand can do that. Nonetheless, my expectations were considerably low, and so the following read pertaining to an identity-shifting expert with an extra finger was that much more of a pleasant surprise. Palahniuk said, "...the best book I've read in five years. Easily. Maybe even ten years," and I'm inclined to agree. Clevenger spins a web of lies and identity crisis so complex, it's a wonder that the reader doesn't get lost in the details of how to fake a birth certificate or SR-22, but the author never shakes you...not unless he wants to. In TCH, we see John Dolan Vincent pitted up against "The Evaluator" for his freedom after an overdose, the story alternating between this battle of wits, tells, and intellect, and the seedy past of this protagonist of how he came use a deformity to his advantage. It reads similar to Palahniuk: minimalist with loads of factual information regarding the trade of forgery (we've seen this before with Jack and explosives in "Fight Club"), but unlike the one and two-star reviews on Amazon where Clevenger is ostracized for being a rip-off, it's obvious to me that the author has made this style his own within the neo-noir genre. Simply put, I see the influence, but nothing that would make me believe Craig wrote this thinking, "What would Chuck do?" And perhaps this is why his second novel turned out so different from his first...to distance himself from the name, the legacy, the style. I wish he would return to it. TCH is one of those books that when I put it down, I knew I'd read it again at least eight more times. I can't recommend it enough.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LW

    NOME:Johnny (alias Chris,Martin,Paul,Eric,Danny ) SEGNI PARTICOLARI:6 dita nella mano sinistra PROFESSIONE:"contorsionista" (o almeno è quella che piu' assomiglia alla sua straordinaria abilita') Johnny ogni tot di mesi soffre di emicranie lancinanti,e ogni volta,per cercare di alleviare quel dolore atroce,che gli infuria nella corteccia cerebrale come una sega,finisce per ingurgitare un bel po' di antidolorifici(e magari pure bourbon)e così...sempre la stessa storia: Overdose--->ricovero in os NOME:Johnny (alias Chris,Martin,Paul,Eric,Danny ) SEGNI PARTICOLARI:6 dita nella mano sinistra PROFESSIONE:"contorsionista" (o almeno è quella che piu' assomiglia alla sua straordinaria abilita') Johnny ogni tot di mesi soffre di emicranie lancinanti,e ogni volta,per cercare di alleviare quel dolore atroce,che gli infuria nella corteccia cerebrale come una sega,finisce per ingurgitare un bel po' di antidolorifici(e magari pure bourbon)e così...sempre la stessa storia: Overdose--->ricovero in ospedale--> risveglio da mani guantate ---> valutazione psichiatrica. Per non rischiare di venire rinchiuso in qualche istituto d'igiene mentale,a causa di tutte queste sospette , frequenti overdose,Johnny si costruisce ,ogni volta,una nuova identità ,curando ogni minimo dettaglio. E' un tipo furbo,John Dolan Vincent,e meticoloso,ha una mano precisa e un'ottima memoria fotografica,è capace di fabbricarsi ,o procurarsi,con vari stratagemmi,tutti i certificati necessari(certificato di nascita,patente,nuovo indirizzo per la posta,tesserino del lavoro,n.di previdenza sociale,etc..)per ripartire da zero. Sempre in fuga. Sempre con la guardia alta. Sempre a fare calcoli. Di continuo. Senza fidarsi di nessuno. Finché incontra Keara , una ragazza con occhi scuri,una cascata di riccioli castani,uno strano sorriso asimmetrico,un piccolo neo sulla clavicola,e altri tre sul lato del collo,come i vertici di una costellazione...ed è come se il grumo di freddo un poco si sciogliesse PS:bella l'immagine finale Resta un'inquadratura di un ragazzo, seduto su un blocco di cemento,in mezzo ad un terreno pieno di erbacce,con una lettera e una busta azzurra... [colonna sonora:Neil Young "Sugar Mountain" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsACI... :) ]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tung

    The protagonist of this story is a twenty-something forgery artist with a photographic memory, a head for numbers, and six fingers on his left hand, and the story begins with him recounting the numerous times in his life he’s overdosed on drugs – and if you think that one sentence description is ridiculous and fascinating, you should definitely read this book, because that ain’t the half of it. John Vincent is the main character’s real name, but the book is told as a series of chapters titled by The protagonist of this story is a twenty-something forgery artist with a photographic memory, a head for numbers, and six fingers on his left hand, and the story begins with him recounting the numerous times in his life he’s overdosed on drugs – and if you think that one sentence description is ridiculous and fascinating, you should definitely read this book, because that ain’t the half of it. John Vincent is the main character’s real name, but the book is told as a series of chapters titled by various aliases John has assumed. The narrative jumps all over the place – from the present where a mental health specialist is assessing John as a suicide risk (he OD’d on pills to combat a recurring migraine), to various instances in his past with his abusive and alcoholic father, to his time in a juvenile delinquency hall, to his life on his own faking his identity. The book describes in great detail how he goes about determining his names and obtaining fake driver’s licenses and social security cards – to the extent that I feel 70% confident I could pull off identity theft and fraud. The dialogue and scenes between the mental health specialist and John in the present day are amazing, as the first person narrative describes how and why John answers certain questions the way he does – to trick the assessor into believing he’s not a risk (Clevenger specifies which questions are asked and why certain answers are suspicious and certain ones are not; very well-researched). The prose in this was one of my biggest pleasant surprises of the year – it’s quick and sharp and hard-hitting, almost noir-ish in a way; as original a voice and narrative as I’ve read in years. The only issue some might have with this book is its apparent lack of a coherent plot: most of the book proceeds in flashbacks and present-day excerpts, but it doesn’t feel like its leading somewhere. And then in the last 20-30 pages, the author pulls you to the present and the book ends as if John has run out of relevant memories to share. It feels a bit abrupt, but to me, it’s consistent with the character and atmosphere of the whole book. One of the more entertaining books I’ve read this year; highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    I took up this book because it was supposed to be a good example of neo-noir genre, which I am currently interested in. And furthermore I read so many five-star reviews on it and even Palahniuk's praise. Well, now I feel I've been cheated. I really don't like criticizing. I liked the opening, the first couple of chapters were intriguing and promising, but then Mr Clevenger, you lost me. I kept reading till the end out of the respect of an author's work and in hope that the ending would finally br I took up this book because it was supposed to be a good example of neo-noir genre, which I am currently interested in. And furthermore I read so many five-star reviews on it and even Palahniuk's praise. Well, now I feel I've been cheated. I really don't like criticizing. I liked the opening, the first couple of chapters were intriguing and promising, but then Mr Clevenger, you lost me. I kept reading till the end out of the respect of an author's work and in hope that the ending would finally bring some unexpected twist or juice. But it didn't. The supposedly freaky features of the protagonist as six-fingers hand, drug abuse, photographic memory, "godsplitters" migraines that caused overdoses, talent with forgery, neither of those really made the character freaky nor built up into a freaky storyline. The character still felt flat and ordinary, and I couldn't begin to care about him and his destiny. The boring incoherent plot could have been saved by an amazing voice and language use, but it didn't happen as well. The paragraphs and sentences in them often felt rambling and chunky, leading into nothingness. In short, personally for me it was a disappointing first meeting with neo-noir.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This book is the equivalent of that thousand-yard stare you get when you stay up until seven in the morning and are sitting outside somewhere with a headache and three cigarettes left. It's cold and it's dry, and it's unpleasant. You don't like the main character, but you're fascinated by him. And not just because Clevenger records in minute (and plausible) detail how the forger reinvents himself. Each character and event in his life is cataloged and stared down with the same steely regard he us This book is the equivalent of that thousand-yard stare you get when you stay up until seven in the morning and are sitting outside somewhere with a headache and three cigarettes left. It's cold and it's dry, and it's unpleasant. You don't like the main character, but you're fascinated by him. And not just because Clevenger records in minute (and plausible) detail how the forger reinvents himself. Each character and event in his life is cataloged and stared down with the same steely regard he uses to forge birth certs and steal social security numbers. The games he plays draw you in, and the book's narrative hook (events are relayed as the main character tries to manipulate a psychiatrist into letting him out of a hospital) makes things almost unbearably tense. My only qualm is that the ending isn't as satisfactory as it could be, but there are some nice twists and reverses, and as you'll burn through it in a couple of hours, my suggestion is to go for it. (I think it's out of print though, but you're more than welcome to borrow my copy)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Victor

    This book was great for the first 85%. The author is impeccable in his precision, his ability to drive home the idea of a character so fanatical about staying under the radar of police and institutions that they obsess over every detail of an identity. In fact, this book is essentially a character study of an individual who is simply unable to fit in with society, who has a deep mistrust for institutions which a privileged person considers "helpful" and who is constantly bobbing and weaving in a This book was great for the first 85%. The author is impeccable in his precision, his ability to drive home the idea of a character so fanatical about staying under the radar of police and institutions that they obsess over every detail of an identity. In fact, this book is essentially a character study of an individual who is simply unable to fit in with society, who has a deep mistrust for institutions which a privileged person considers "helpful" and who is constantly bobbing and weaving in an attempt to avoid these institutions. The reality is, this book only falters when the focus shifts from our main character, when suddenly this secondary plot, and the trials and tribulations of a woman who the reader never really meets nor cares about become part of the resolution. Suddenly, we are supposed to care about her motivations, and surprisingly, there is a very anti-climactic non-resolution to our main character's problems. It's an entertaining read, a fun read, but the last couple chapters just leave you uninspired.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    This was a quick read on an airplane ride. It more than met my expectations for that situation. While I am no expert on either forged identities or psychiatric evals the jargon used and the details provided sounded believable (white taurus anonimity, lol). The drinking and drug abuse described would probably render the protagonist more like the homeless kid whose identity he buys (Stove) than the superhuman flawed genius that narrates the story. Some beautiful writing I particularly liked the se This was a quick read on an airplane ride. It more than met my expectations for that situation. While I am no expert on either forged identities or psychiatric evals the jargon used and the details provided sounded believable (white taurus anonimity, lol). The drinking and drug abuse described would probably render the protagonist more like the homeless kid whose identity he buys (Stove) than the superhuman flawed genius that narrates the story. Some beautiful writing I particularly liked the sex scene around p100 specially since I had just read some award winning bad sex scenes (eg "soft as a coil of excrement" Norman Mailer's description of a penis!) So I thought "felt the whisper of God deep within my bones" was inspired. The dissertation about fighting v talking about ass-kicking (p126) rang true. I enjoyed throw away images like that of neighbor Brett walking straight lines on the imaginary lawn, an unnecessary but lovely detail, or the "extra finger does miracles for grip" comment, or the business concern metaphor employed by the Big Boss. Didn't care for the ending though.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Ortiz

    This book invaded my dreams & I noticed my body was veeeeery uneasy every time I sat down to read it, which I both dig and admire.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I only gave this four stars because I feel strange giving five stars to a book about a six-fingered, drug-abusing guy who forges identity paperwork on a constant basis, changing his name, address, and everything else to stay one step ahead of the psychiatrists, counselors, police officers, and drug-running gangsters who all (whether they know it or not) want to figure out what this guy is really about. Oh, and he has pretty consistent, ridiculously severe migraine headaches that usually end with I only gave this four stars because I feel strange giving five stars to a book about a six-fingered, drug-abusing guy who forges identity paperwork on a constant basis, changing his name, address, and everything else to stay one step ahead of the psychiatrists, counselors, police officers, and drug-running gangsters who all (whether they know it or not) want to figure out what this guy is really about. Oh, and he has pretty consistent, ridiculously severe migraine headaches that usually end with him in the ER and/or a mental hospital due to his routinely overdosing on varying illict and illegal pain medication. This isn't an uplifting book, nor is it intended to be. Rather, Clevenger delves deeply into the complex, thickly woven layers of the heart, mind, and hopes/lack of hope of a young man who has done whatever he needed to in order to survive, make people not notice him, and try to rise above the family and home-life that he was born into. It's an incredibly well-written book, one that (as a therapist) I found myself fascinated by, as a majority of the time the main character is being evaluated and assessed by a running list of different emergency on-call mental health workers. He knows them, he knows their tactics, tendencies, rules, and approaches, and he stays miles ahead of them by tweaking his affect (i.e. expressions, hand movements) and words to fit the mold of whatever person it is that he knows these interviewers need to see in order to release him. There's a ridiculous amount of dead-on psychological jargon, understanding, and explanation, some of it shaming to my profession and some of it speaking to the desperation we therapists have in a field wherein most of what we do seems to be slapping homemade bandages, two sizes too small, on gaping wounds two sizes too big. Clevenger has done his homework, and it shows. There's a gritty, addicting reality to this character and this book. I found myself coming back to it often because I found myself really needing to know what we going to happen to him next, how he would deal with it, what he would realize about himself or another person, and just how (with the linguistic equivalent of a physician's delicate scalpel) the author would crushingly communicate it to me. It's a dark book, full of many unsavory characters and even more unsavory situations, but I have no doubt that it communicates (and quite effectively so) a haunting reality that many people experience every day. Reading about the main character's family and roots, I couldn't help seeing so many of the kids I work with in his descriptions, his father, mother, and sister, and what he went through (and continues to). For some reason, I felt throughout this book that I was reading the modern equivalent of 'The Catcher in the Rye'. It's altogether different, but one can't help but wonder if John Dolan Vincent and Holden Caulfield aren't in fact attached in some Siamese way, limbs interwined and shared through some hole punched in space and time, their stumbling footsteps echoing one another's as they attempt to grasp hold of something real, beautiful, and true in a world that doesn't often seem to feature any of those attributes on a regular basis. Chuck Palahniuk, author of 'Fight Club' and 'Choke", is quotes as saying, 'I swear to God that this is the best book I have read in easily five years. Easily. Maybe ten years.' I get what he's saying, even if I can't quite (being hopeful and more optimistic than pessimistic) readily agree with him. It's a real book, and it's painful and touchable and terrifying all in the same moment. Recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jason Moss

    Don't get me wrong, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. But, given the lavish praise from the pantheon of twisted, dark literature -- Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh -- I expected it would blow my mind. That didn't quite happen. Written as memoir that ping-pongs between the present and the past, the book focuses on John Dolan Vincent, a polydactyl, forger and spacial math brainiac, whose tendency to self-medicate his debilitating "godsplitter" headaches always keep him one step away from windin Don't get me wrong, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. But, given the lavish praise from the pantheon of twisted, dark literature -- Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh -- I expected it would blow my mind. That didn't quite happen. Written as memoir that ping-pongs between the present and the past, the book focuses on John Dolan Vincent, a polydactyl, forger and spacial math brainiac, whose tendency to self-medicate his debilitating "godsplitter" headaches always keep him one step away from winding up in the looney bin because some below-average psychiatric evaluator deems him too suicidal for his own good. To avoid such a fate, he must constantly assume new identities, so there is no ability to connect his hospital records. Like Palahniuk, the author Craig Clevenger does an amazing job of detailing a world most of us don't think much about; in this case, identification forgery. He also channels Ken Kesey and provides a scathing, yet humorous, critique of psychiatric medicine and the automaton behavior of those who inhabit those hospital halls. But, for some reason, though all the component were right, and I could trace dependencies to many of my favorite authors, the novel never came perfectly together. The rhythm was stacatto, the multiple love interests were a tad incredible, and my interest in the main character waxed after a while. Again, it's a fun read...but it might be time to dial down the adulation just a tad. (P.S. If you're looking for a great novel featuring another polydactyl, check out "Twelve Fingers" by Jo Soares. What a super read!)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anya

    Goodreads tells me that I've read 662 books so far. And it's safe to say that I haven't read anything like this one ever in my life. :') Talk about having your brain blown to bits because so much awesomeness.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Colin McKay Miller

    Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook is a lean read with infectious language, but it feels like most of the tension also got cut. The novel is told from the perspective of John Dolan Vincent, a brilliant six-fingered forger who has spent his life moving between identities. Vincent gets monstrous headaches—“godsplitters” he calls them—and a near-fatal overdose pits him against a psychiatric evaluator to avoid being institutionalized. Vincent tells the reader his true story, including whe Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook is a lean read with infectious language, but it feels like most of the tension also got cut. The novel is told from the perspective of John Dolan Vincent, a brilliant six-fingered forger who has spent his life moving between identities. Vincent gets monstrous headaches—“godsplitters” he calls them—and a near-fatal overdose pits him against a psychiatric evaluator to avoid being institutionalized. Vincent tells the reader his true story, including when he’s lying, starting from childhood on up. Problem is, John Vincent is a little too good at what he does, so the reader never feels like he’s in any real danger. It’s like when a villain shows up to fight Superman without any kryptonite. Sure, you could capture Lois Lane, but now you’re just making that all-powerful Superman mad. Additionally, the seedy individuals that Vincent works for are mobster clichés; a glaring mistake considering how carefully written the rest of the novel is. The unresolved nature at the end of the novel seems like a mistake, too, but considering the no real danger vibe to begin with, it’s not all that surprising. Regardless of the flaws, Clevenger’s writing is hypnotic enough to balance out the scales. Almost. He’s like Chuck Palahniuk on a strict diet regimen and supplements. There’s not more—both are certainly minimalists—but Clevenger’s effort to get those lean words right (he does waves of editing for nitpicky things and even has an Excel spreadsheet tracking his adverbs) is plain to see. The explanation of the title is also quite admirable. Still, there’s a lacking to the story that can’t be covered by the commendable style. Three stars. Barely.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fox

    I was a bit hesitant to read this book when I heard that Chuck Palahniuk had praised it rather readily. As much as I like Palahniuk as a person, his experimental writings can get a bit old after a while and I'm not much for the shock literature that he is known for any longer. Nonetheless, this book intrigued me and has been lurking around the outskirts of my mind as a must-read for far too long now. My own curiosity, and my friend Sasha's high rating, eventually combined to finally get me to g I was a bit hesitant to read this book when I heard that Chuck Palahniuk had praised it rather readily. As much as I like Palahniuk as a person, his experimental writings can get a bit old after a while and I'm not much for the shock literature that he is known for any longer. Nonetheless, this book intrigued me and has been lurking around the outskirts of my mind as a must-read for far too long now. My own curiosity, and my friend Sasha's high rating, eventually combined to finally get me to give it a read. The bulk of the book consists of John Vincent's memories and inner musings as he tries to conspire to stay out of a mental institution after overdosing on drugs. He needs to convince the evaluating psychiatrist of several things: 1) that he isn't depressed or suicidal, 2) that he is who he claims to be, and 3) that he isn't gaming the system. The problem is that all of the above are inherently true and the evaluating psychiatrist may very well be on to him. The book is very aptly titled, the ins and outs of John Vincent's life and thought process curling in on itself as the pieces slowly begin to fall into place. We learn more about John only in degrees, and morbid curiosity plows us forward as we find ourselves as taken in with him as the rest of the world is. This book is a fascinating curiosity, a compelling, quick read and perhaps just enough to get me to want to read more by the author. Very cool book, and definitely well worth the praise it garnered.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Snotchocheez

    This is one book that you certainly cannot judge by its cover, although it certainly piqued my interest. You don't really know what to expect when you see "A Contortionists Handbook" followed by a sepia-toned picture of a man bending his legs at the knees at right angles from the rest of his body, followed by a hearty endorsement from none other than Chuck Palahniuk, all on the front cover. (Throwing in a note about the author Craig Clevenger being a Cal State Long Beach alum on the reverse side This is one book that you certainly cannot judge by its cover, although it certainly piqued my interest. You don't really know what to expect when you see "A Contortionists Handbook" followed by a sepia-toned picture of a man bending his legs at the knees at right angles from the rest of his body, followed by a hearty endorsement from none other than Chuck Palahniuk, all on the front cover. (Throwing in a note about the author Craig Clevenger being a Cal State Long Beach alum on the reverse side of the book only cemented the deal for me...I had to read this book.) I don't see the comparison to Palahniuk alluded to by many in this forum; Clevenger's voice is uniquely his own. The "contortionist" in question relates his story of having to change his identity several times in order to survive migraines and overdoses, and his account at first is somewhat difficult to follow. Like peeling the layers of an onion, we learn the protagonist's m.o. chapter by chapter, and by the end we are left with an indelible portrait of this man. Clevenger, a Southern California dude through and through, inserts many Los Angeles-centric locations throughout his narrative that add realism, particularly if the reader is from LA (although he doesn't have to be to enjoy this book). Overall, I was quite impressed with "The Contortionist's Handbook", and look forward to reading more from Clevenger.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    Very interesting book. John Vincent isn't a contortionist in a traditional i.e. jacket photo way, but he does contort himself inside different identities every 6 months or so. This book is really more of a identity thief/forger handbook and the author goes into frightening amount of detail on the subject. It's the sort of book I wasn't sure I liked very much until the very end and then it became apparent that this story is genuinely different and the character is thoroughly original, things I hi Very interesting book. John Vincent isn't a contortionist in a traditional i.e. jacket photo way, but he does contort himself inside different identities every 6 months or so. This book is really more of a identity thief/forger handbook and the author goes into frightening amount of detail on the subject. It's the sort of book I wasn't sure I liked very much until the very end and then it became apparent that this story is genuinely different and the character is thoroughly original, things I highly value in fiction. Turns out identity unstable, polydactyl addicts with photographic memory make for strangely compelling protagonists. Clevenger seems to be the opposite of prolific with just two published novels, which is a shame, because there is definitely evidence of talent here, sort of a neonoir visceral authenticity. Recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Patrick O'Neil

    Craig Clevenger could have let the reader in a little sooner. You know, trusted us just a little bit more. And I'm not going to spoil it for anybody, but a little more meat at the end as well would have helped - but hell man, The Contortionist's Handbook absolutely kills. A minute into it I was caught up and I never let go. A really good friend told me to read this book, he even loaned me his signed copy. He said, "read this, you'll love it." He was right.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Treplovski

    I haven't written a review of this book yet. I was too bewildered and amazed to do more than stammer, my god, you have to read this book! I'm pretty good with words, but to review The Contortionist's Handbook is like trying to explain unconsciousness to someone who's never blacked out. …I'll try later.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cenhner Scott

    El que se ponga a leer esto porque leyó las alabanzas que le hizo Palahniuk, sepa esto: este libro no tiene un pito en común con nada de Palahniuk. Al tipo le gustó el libro, pero nada más, es como que Miley Cyrus diga que le gusta Joni Mitchell. Si estás esperando leer algo parecido a Palahniuk, este libro no va. (Probá con Osvaldo Lamborghini). El argumento es copado: un tipo con mucha memoria y muy inteligente aprovecha su sapiencia para cambiar su identidad cada vez que tiene quilombos con la El que se ponga a leer esto porque leyó las alabanzas que le hizo Palahniuk, sepa esto: este libro no tiene un pito en común con nada de Palahniuk. Al tipo le gustó el libro, pero nada más, es como que Miley Cyrus diga que le gusta Joni Mitchell. Si estás esperando leer algo parecido a Palahniuk, este libro no va. (Probá con Osvaldo Lamborghini). El argumento es copado: un tipo con mucha memoria y muy inteligente aprovecha su sapiencia para cambiar su identidad cada vez que tiene quilombos con la ley. También tiene seis dedos; no es algo muy importante, pero es un detalle al que le saca provecho ingeniosamente. Como tiene unas migrañas fortísimas cata tanto, suele pasarse de mambo con los calmantes, y para evitar que lo internen por suicida, va cambiando de identidad. Hasta que se le complica todo. El libro es entretenido, aunque de a ratos medio se pierde; el autor da vueltas sobre el tema de las migrañas, para llegar a ninguna conclusión (y eso que desde el vamos es evidente que son psicosomáticas). La historia de amor no es empalagosa, pero por la relevancia que tiene me hubiera gustado más saber sobre ella. Pero como el personaje (que tiene como seis nombres a lo largo del libro, así que no sé con cuál llamarlo), decía, como el personaje es interesante y es muy divertido ver cómo manipula todo a su alrededor, la novela se hace llevadera y entretenida. Y no, tampoco habla de drogas de una forma "uh qué terrible drogaaaaasss". Para eso mirá Réquiem Para Un Sueño.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    I liked this a bunch. Very Palahniuk-esque, without the feeling that the author loathes me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Josh Gaines

    I just finished this book of the above name, by Craig Clevenger. I read it pretty much purely because Chuck Palaniuk told me to. Kinda. He said this about it several years ago, “I swear to God this is easily the best book I’ve read in 5 years. Easily. Maybe 10 years.” I have a hunch that Chuck is actually friends with Craig and was just being extra friendly by saying this in order to sell more copies, as Chuck has a much larger fan base. And the thing is: his fans listen to what he says. They li I just finished this book of the above name, by Craig Clevenger. I read it pretty much purely because Chuck Palaniuk told me to. Kinda. He said this about it several years ago, “I swear to God this is easily the best book I’ve read in 5 years. Easily. Maybe 10 years.” I have a hunch that Chuck is actually friends with Craig and was just being extra friendly by saying this in order to sell more copies, as Chuck has a much larger fan base. And the thing is: his fans listen to what he says. They listen for his inspirations, and then they check them out. I am a living example of this. This is in fact the third book I’ve read that Palahniuk mentioned enjoying, and he’s only steered me wrong once (with 'Clown Girl'). Anyway, the book is from 2002, and is Clevenger’s debut novel. It follows a young man through the 70’s and 80’s who evades the law (and the many State psychiatrists he has to bluff) by continuously changing his identity. Keep in mind, this is taking place before computer database systems for individual records, so the ways he comes up with to forge documents and renew his identity are delightfully clever. He is somewhat of a stoic, and lives a broken, edgy, drug- and alcohol-riddled life. Oh yes, and there’s some strippers/hookers involved, which is apparently a requirement for an ‘edgy’ novel. Without giving too much away, the main character (whose real name you don’t really know until about halfway through) gets horrifically bad migraines that last for days at a time. He keeps ending up in rehab and under psychiatric evaluation because he overdoses multiple times trying to stop the pain of these headaches. This is when things get interesting, because he’s a ‘different person’ each time he interviews with a psychiatric employee of the State. I won’t go into any more than that, but the overall intrigue of the book is definitely how clever the main character and his methods are. Certain novels give me the sense that the author is just simply… smart, and knows how to write smart; this is one of those. In a sense, it almost has an Ocean’s 11-esque quality in that it takes you behind the scenes of a deceptive crime, though it’s not nearly as lighthearted. The writing is very good in a simplistic way; not trying too hard to be over-loaded with deep or reverential adjectives, but well-crafted enough to keep you vividly in the moment and very interested in the surroundings. The character is definitely likable, though his motives can be, at times, a little difficult to define or point out. I don’t know if it’s the actual graphic layout of the physical book, but something about the publishing quality seems a little… flimsy. You know when you can almost tell something has been done cheaply, or on a low budget? That’s how the layout and outside cover seem to me. Though the writing quality itself does not at all seem unprofessional or amateur. Maybe he just had a bad graphic designer or a publisher with no money. I only mention this because I find it interesting and it stood out to me. If you enjoy authors like Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis, this would probably be right up your alley, and I would recommend the book even to those unfamiliar with the aforementioned names. There’s some interesting things to be found in here.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    When I was first recommended this book, I had no idea what to expect. For whatever reason, I was mainly going by the cover art and relying on that to tell me what this book was mainly about. A contortionist. Wrong. Never judge a book by it's cover folks. The book is about John Vincent. John is a man who suffers from such severe headaches that he usually ends up overdosing on painkillers and various prescription pills in an effort to stop the torture. When this happens, nine times out of ten, he g When I was first recommended this book, I had no idea what to expect. For whatever reason, I was mainly going by the cover art and relying on that to tell me what this book was mainly about. A contortionist. Wrong. Never judge a book by it's cover folks. The book is about John Vincent. John is a man who suffers from such severe headaches that he usually ends up overdosing on painkillers and various prescription pills in an effort to stop the torture. When this happens, nine times out of ten, he gets picked up by paramedics and brought to the hospital in an effort to save his life. Once revived, it's mandatory that he meets with a psychiatrist to determine whether or not the OD was accidental or an attempt to end his life. Knowing that this will most certainly happen again (as this is the only way he knows how to deal with the headaches), he's forced to create an entirely new identity so that if he is picked up again by medics, he's not tossed in a mental institution. The narrative jumps all over the place from the present (a conversation with an evaluator due to his most recent overdose) to the various identities he's stolen in the past. Usually, I can be a little thrown off by this but with the trend I've been taking with authors lately, it seems to be the status quo. As good as this book was, I had this feeling that Vincent was never really in any sort of danger of being caught. The man is just so good at what he does, he seems like he's leaps and bounds ahead of any potential threat. However, I guess that's not really what the book is about as Clevenger seems to spend more time with his relationship with his father and the women in his life. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, I was pretty much glued to these pages throughout. It's just, I can't really figure out why I was. Clevenger is an excellent writer, the man really has some talent. I'm genuinely surprised that this hasn't been picked up by someone in Hollywood yet. It seems like the perfect movie for someone like David Fincher. I guess with the ending being some anti-climatic, it may create some problems.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Isaac Cooper

    What a load of post-modern crap. This is absolute drivel of the highest order. You couldn’t pay me to keep reading this. I actually wanted to scream at this book. I hated it. Hated everything about it, the prose, the lack of a sympathetic - or at the very least engaging - character, the story, everything. The book keeps going on about how this guy creates false identities, and while it may be technically accurate, while the author may have read a ton of Wikipedia articles about how to make birth What a load of post-modern crap. This is absolute drivel of the highest order. You couldn’t pay me to keep reading this. I actually wanted to scream at this book. I hated it. Hated everything about it, the prose, the lack of a sympathetic - or at the very least engaging - character, the story, everything. The book keeps going on about how this guy creates false identities, and while it may be technically accurate, while the author may have read a ton of Wikipedia articles about how to make birth certificates, it is by no means interesting writing. I can read non-fiction books more entertaining than this! You know, for me reading books is more about connecting with a character, going on a fictional journey with them, and less about pointless descriptive shit like this: Six months of hope cost me three thousand dollars. Travel, antique and estate sale purchases, materials, new mail drop, secured credit card and deposits and fees – DMV, SSA, passport application, car registration insurance, first, last, deposit. Stop it! Enough! Stop describing pointless things like this to me! Where I am: A ten-foot by twelve-foot room, one hundred and twenty square feet with nine-foot ceilings, one thousand eighty cubic feet of country-issue recycled air. I said stop it! Chuck Palahniuk liked this book? I can understand why. It’s post-modernism taken into excess. There’s no regard for an interesting story, an interesting character, or even just an interesting thing to say. There’s just shitty attempts at appearing wordy and literary, and I hate it. Think I can safely say it’s the worst book I’ve read all year. I’ve read some stinkers this year, but nothing like this. I’m enraged reading this. I’m having my time wasted, squandered, and spat in my face. There is nothing interesting or engaging happening in The Contortionist’s Handbook and you, whoever you are, should stay far, far, away from it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    jack

    an excellent read. the contortionist's handbook was about John Dolan Vincent; a drug addict, a mathematical genius, a man in love, and an unbelievably gifted forger who creates new identites for himself to avoid getting incarcerated. many reviewers have compared craig clevenger's writing style to chuck palahniuk's; i didn't really see it. i mean, sure, it's just as edgy, stylized, and twisted as palahniuk's library, but i must say ...clevenger's writing techniques were like a breath of fresh air an excellent read. the contortionist's handbook was about John Dolan Vincent; a drug addict, a mathematical genius, a man in love, and an unbelievably gifted forger who creates new identites for himself to avoid getting incarcerated. many reviewers have compared craig clevenger's writing style to chuck palahniuk's; i didn't really see it. i mean, sure, it's just as edgy, stylized, and twisted as palahniuk's library, but i must say ...clevenger's writing techniques were like a breath of fresh air for me. from the descriptions of his gruesome OD's to his affair with the love of his life, his display of words and detailed descriptions were inventive and compelling, metaphorically, which actually came off rather poetic at many moments. in fact, i'm very much looking forward to a second read, particularly for those very details and favored moments, but that won't be for a long while. well, who isn't trying to write like palahniuk these days anyway? it's just too easy to go that route, and i refuse to be a part of it. :) around the time when he revealed his childhood past as a delinquent (mid-book), i grew very uninterested. it was a much needed break from all the suspense in the beginning chapters, but...something about it just made me not care a whole lot. perhaps that was my fault. and it probably shouldn't be revealed, as i don't want to give anything away. but the "suspense" immediately revived itself as the last quarter of the book came to be. pretty fucking impressive, in all.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn

    The Contortionist's Handbook is one of those books that just hooks you in from the very beginning and carries you on a weird and wonderful journey. The protagonist, John, is a typical down and out type from an outsider's point of view. He's someone you're naturally wired to hate, but through his charisma and intelligence, you just can't help but love him. The phrase 'own worst enemy' immediately springs to mind. John's a master forger who can perfectly fake just about anything, which comes in ha The Contortionist's Handbook is one of those books that just hooks you in from the very beginning and carries you on a weird and wonderful journey. The protagonist, John, is a typical down and out type from an outsider's point of view. He's someone you're naturally wired to hate, but through his charisma and intelligence, you just can't help but love him. The phrase 'own worst enemy' immediately springs to mind. John's a master forger who can perfectly fake just about anything, which comes in handy for his other past time of being a drug addict (thinly veiled under the guise of someone who experiences 'godsplitting' headaches and then self-medicates to the point of regular overdose). Due to his appreciation for narcotics, he finds himself in and out of hospitals and uses his talented skills to knock up a brand new identity for himself each time to prevent the men in white coats trying to lock him up. It's enthralling and a perfect piece of escapism, as you wonder if the authorities will ever catch up with John (or whatever his name is that week). While the ending was a little weak IMO, the intelligent, witty prose and clever one liners completely won me over to make this a 5/5.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    I got this book years ago as a gift by a person who apparently never knew me well because while this is not a bad book per se, it just isn't something I really enjoy reading about. The Contortionist's Handbook is something of a neo-noir thriller that tells the story of Daniel Fletcher/Christoher Thorne/Eric Bishop, but really John Vincent, a master forger who suffers from strong migraines that get him taken to the hospital every few months. I was enjoying this a lot more in the beginning when I I got this book years ago as a gift by a person who apparently never knew me well because while this is not a bad book per se, it just isn't something I really enjoy reading about. The Contortionist's Handbook is something of a neo-noir thriller that tells the story of Daniel Fletcher/Christoher Thorne/Eric Bishop, but really John Vincent, a master forger who suffers from strong migraines that get him taken to the hospital every few months. I was enjoying this a lot more in the beginning when I thought the story would turn out to be a cat-and-mouse game between Vincent and a psychiatrist who has to decide whether Vincent is suicidal and needs to be taken in or if he just accidentally overdosed in order stop the pain. Vincent, however, tries hard not to show who he really is and reveals in turn to the reader why he first started changing his name and how he accomplishes to take on a complete new identity every few months. Unfortunately the book just didn't get anywhere IMO and if it wasn't so short, I probably wouldn't have finished it. The good thing is that it's now finally off my to-read-shelf!

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