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The Contortionist's Handbook

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  10,670 ratings  ·  499 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 24th 2003 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing (first published 2002)
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Rob Absolutely not, it's almost more of a Catch Me If You Can if Frank Abagnale Jr had a darker side.…moreAbsolutely not, it's almost more of a Catch Me If You Can if Frank Abagnale Jr had a darker side.(less)

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  10,670 ratings  ·  499 reviews

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Paquita Maria Sanchez
Aug 16, 2012 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
Dec 16, 2014 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
Nick Younker
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Craig Clevenger has crafted something genuinely handsome, attractive to those who enjoy minimalist lit without junk filler. A story that cuts right to the chase, gives you all the right details if you’re an adult who knows how to read the fine print in transgressive fiction.

I won’t go into much detail about content, but it’s a rare view inside the mind of a junkie-genius who takes his extraordinary skills to the next level by supporting his habit[s] as a counterfeit papermaker, a faux ombudsman
Ed [Redacted]
Mar 18, 2012 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
Brandon Tietz
Oct 24, 2010 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
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 01, 2007 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
Anya (~on a semi-hiatus~)
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. ...more
Jul 21, 2012 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
Mar 29, 2008 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
Doctor Gaines
Feb 15, 2011 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
Dec 20, 2010 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
Jan 21, 2009 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
Dec 05, 2008 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
Aug 26, 2011 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
Nov 16, 2014 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
Patrick O'Neil
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 06, 2012 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
Jan 25, 2008 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
Matthew Vaughn
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
It had been about 10 years since I read this book and I'd been meaning to re-read it for awhile. Craig Clevenger's writing is crisp and powerful. His characters are full of depth and practicality jump off the page. I feel like Clevenger's one of the best modern writers out there, and The Contortionists Handbook is one well written and entertaining read. ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked this a bunch. Very Palahniuk-esque, without the feeling that the author loathes me.
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
Apr 05, 2014 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
Jun 06, 2009 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. ...more
Jason Moss
Feb 27, 2013 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
Cecily Brizz
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Best book I’ve read in a long time. The ending was *chef’s kiss*.

I was captivated by the love story that gave some dimension to a man who felt he had none. Johnny and Keara were both so fluid but always anchored to each other. I was honestly surprised by the ending, wondering if pages had been torn from my copy.

Anyway, it was a short read but challenging enough that I had to take my time with it. It kept me on my toes and made me think. There was great attention to detail and you could tell the
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

“Imagine waking up to your morning stomach knot and subsequent rituals: Shower.Coffee.Traffic. Talk radio. Hell. Home. Drink. But you remember that it’s Sunday. That four second blast of relief is what Vicodin feels like for six hours.”

This is a bit of a strange creature, there is some really sharp, tight and lovely crafted prose, particularly in the early stages, but although this was a lively enough read, there was a kind of hollow and anti-climactic feel by the end.

Considering the hype lavish
Isaac Cooper
Dec 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
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 ...more
Colin McKay Miller
Feb 02, 2009 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
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 ...more
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Recomendations for fans of The Contortionists Handbook? 9 60 Aug 29, 2013 02:57PM  
Thoughts on the ending? 3 84 Aug 19, 2013 04:34AM  

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