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The Contortionist's Handbook
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The Contortionist's Handbook

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  5,835 ratings  ·  323 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 MooreThe Contortionist's Handbook by Craig ClevengerA Dirty Job by Christopher MooreKiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer
Best Books You've Never Heard Of
3rd out of 589 books — 551 voters
Fight Club by Chuck PalahniukA Clockwork Orange by Anthony BurgessAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton EllisThe Elephant Tree by R.D. RonaldThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Best Transgressive Fiction
52nd out of 650 books — 361 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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...more
Dec 05, 2008 Frank rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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...more
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
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
Doctor 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...more
Colin McKay Miller
Feb 09, 2009 Colin McKay Miller rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
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...more
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 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...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...more
Jan 06, 2008 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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...more
Jun 08, 2014 Kirsten rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to love this book. The first three pages took my breath away and I was super excited to read more. By page 50 my enthusiasm had already dropped rapidly, and by page 100 I was so apathetic to the protagonist's plight that I put the book down for several months. Then mild curiosity took over, and I forced myself to finish it. I should have saved my time and just read a review with a spoiler.

The book had some impressive descriptions, especially of intense sex,...more
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.
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...more
Benoit Lelievre
This is a remarkable piece of fiction. Every bit as noir as it is literary and psychologically twisted. It's not meant for every crowd, but it's meant for my demographic. Literature doesn't get any better than this. Clevenger isn't just a good writing teacher, he's also one of the best contemporary writers we have right now. Stellar, Stellar book. I savoured it for over a week, reading little by little, letting it sink in. It was that good.
Oct 08, 2007 Kurt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any and all
nice, real nice. math is cool, but still only if you can do it in your head, and instantaneously, and pretty much only if you use it for nefarious purposes. but, that's better than nothing, math (you bastard). Clevenger's writing is smooth, not a single sentence seems out of order or does anything to disrupt the rhythm. I'm on to his next book.
Alia S
This has been sitting on my list for however many years it's been since I happened to see Craig Clevenger at some Litquake thing in the Mission. His must have been an especially good reading, because the only other thing I remember about the event is deciding I wasn't going to go to one again. o_O

There is something suspect about the relationship between the author and the angst y, superior young-male protagonist of this book—it's a liiiiittle too sympathetic, vaguely juvenile—but you could say t...more
Joseph D'Lacey
Very clever with an entirely engaging narrator/protagonist. The book's insinuation that victims of depression can disappear into the hands of the state indefinitely is terrifying. Liberating, on the other hand, is the central idea that it's possible to live by the system yet outside the system. A thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable read.
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.
Sara Gran
Brilliant. This is one of those books that snuck up on the world--came out from a small press, not a lot of promo, etc., but over the past few years has sold a billion copies just on the basis of its awesomeness. Pretty much everyone who reads this book loves it, for good reason. Movie coming soon.
Good book. It's one of those wasted potential type things, which I love. Our main character has an amazing ability to forge and could do so much more for himself. I fell in love with the character. We love the ones we identify with.
A bit strange....acutally...very strange. Lot´s of drugs, him always changing his personallity. Not really my cup of cake. But if someone is into psycho reading this one will probably make it
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Recomendations for fans of The Contortionists Handbook? 9 42 Aug 29, 2013 02:57PM  
Thoughts on the ending? 3 24 Aug 19, 2013 04:34AM  
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Author of books frequently borrowed but seldom returned.
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