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The Contortionist's Handbook

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,516 Ratings  ·  383 Reviews
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, ...more
Paperback, 199 pages
Published September 15th 2003 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing (first published 2002)
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Geek Love by Katherine DunnLamb by Christopher MooreA Dirty Job by Christopher MooreThe Contortionist's Handbook by Craig ClevengerInvisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
Oct 31, 2012 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
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
Edward Lorn
Apr 08, 2015 Edward Lorn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chuck Palahniuk and Will Christopher Baer fans
Recommended to Edward by: Chuck Palahniuk
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
Ed [Redacted]
Mar 28, 2012 Ed [Redacted] rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
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
Dec 21, 2014 Fewlas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, r
Più che ad un contorsionista il protagonista di questo libro mi ha fatto venire in mente un funambolo. Qualcuno in un equilibrio precario, sempre a rischio caduta, che salti da una fune all’altra mantenendosi in uno stato di volo illusorio. Così il protagonista di questo romanzo (anch’esso funambolico) salta spesso da un’identità all’altra e tenta, dinanzi al lettore, di ricostruire quella che ha dato inizio a questi vertiginosi giochi da equilibrista. Mi ha ricordato molto Smembramenti di Royle ...more
Brandon Tietz
Nov 14, 2010 Brandon Tietz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
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
Aug 28, 2011 Rae rated it it was ok
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
Apr 24, 2008 Tung rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 21, 2012 Dave rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2008 Frank rated it really liked it
Recommended to Frank by: llita
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
Mar 12, 2013 Victor rated it liked it
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
Nov 16, 2014 Bandit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Wendy Ortiz
Jul 28, 2015 Wendy Ortiz rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 01, 2007 Adam rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jun 12, 2009 Treplovski rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 11, 2014 Ana rated it it was ok
Shelves: noir
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
Jan 23, 2009 Snotchocheez rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
Doctor Gaines
Feb 25, 2011 Doctor Gaines rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Colin McKay Miller
Feb 09, 2009 Colin McKay Miller rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Palahniuk fans
Shelves: novels
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
Dec 29, 2010 Brandon rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2010
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
Jason Moss
Mar 14, 2013 Jason Moss rated it liked it
Shelves: dark-literature
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
Feb 17, 2008 jack rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
This book took me by surprise first, and secondly, by storm. I inhaled it quickly, like the first cigarette in a fresh pack, and similarly, the novel gave me a head rush. Full of an enticing story which was impeccably researched and executed. Often compared to Palahniuk's works, I found Clevenger's debut novel to hold more detail in a way that did not make me want to skim forward (I love Chuck, but Survivor was a list of cleaning rituals I had no interest in).

The lead character, Johnny/Daniel/P
Jan 06, 2008 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mike by: Adrienne
After overdosing on pain killers Daniel Fletcher is being interviewed by a psychiatrist in a hospital. The doctor is trying to determine whether or not the OD was an intentional suicide attempt. Through the interview you're given a glimpse into the life of Daniel Fletcher. Fletcher isn't his name, just one of the many identities he's taken over a long and strange life as a counterfieter and forger. This book shows that that price for parents and teachers and doctors not asking the right question ...more
Dec 12, 2011 Edward rated it liked it
Shelves: transgressive
I have mixed feeling about this book. It's very slow and nothing ever really happens. But on the other hand it is very well written and hard to put down, considering nothing really happens. It's an interesting tale about a man who constantly changes his identity and is trying to get out of being stuck in a psych ward. It goes into his history with migraines and time spent in a youth camp. Which was just a prison for kids. It tells how he meets his love, Keara. And that's pretty much it. But as I ...more
Filipe Lemos
Aug 26, 2013 Filipe Lemos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, novel, audio, review
This is the kind of book I have to force myself to keep reading, because sometimes you might get be surprised, which I was.

"The Contortionist's Handbook" is a trip into a very strange mind. The main character is almost sub-human, sociopathic,or whatever you want to call it.
But, as the story unfolds, you get to see that even such a damaged soul worries and suffers about things (trivial or otherwise) like everyone else, like yourself.
In this sense, it reminds me a lot of Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Drea
Jan 24, 2016 Vampfiction rated it it was amazing
Excellent! You really feel like you are in this character's head throughout the book. He's psychotic and crafty and you always want to know what he's going to do next. The fact that he has a soft spot for someone reminds you that he is human. Fast paced, entertaining read!
Jun 20, 2015 Anya rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 27, 2014 Deeanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I read this book after reading a lot of Good Reads recommendations, and I have to say...I just didn't like it.

The author's voice, style, and characterization seemed like a poor mans Palahniuk, and I only like Palahniuk well enough as it is. I didn't think the writing flowed, and it seemed riddled with psuedo-science and psuedo-psychology. It was hard for me to care about the characters or resolution. I kept putting it down and it took me way longer to read this book than it should have.

Go re
Jan 12, 2016 Jack rated it it was amazing
No wonder Chuck Palahniuk likes this book - it's written in a voice that could easily be his, filled with misshapen characters and the weird, but more than articulate thoughts of one anti-hero. Well worth a read - though not a long one for me. Unputdownable.
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Recomendations for fans of The Contortionists Handbook? 9 52 Aug 29, 2013 02:57PM  
Thoughts on the ending? 3 43 Aug 19, 2013 04:34AM  
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Author of books frequently borrowed but seldom returned.
More about Craig Clevenger...

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“A person’s life story is equal to what they have plus what they want most in the world, minus what they’re actually willing to sacrifice for it.” 33 likes
“It's taken me years of practice to learn how to act natural.” 23 likes
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