The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger
My Rating: 5 stars
After an overdose of painkillers, Daniel Fletcher wakes up in a Los Angeles trauma center and is detained for psychiatric evaluation. Again. Except his name isn’t really Daniel Fletcher. Or Eric Bishop. Or Christopher Thorne. All of these names belong to one man – John Dolan Vincent – an intelligent and talented young forger who continually reinvents himself to escape the legal and mental health authorities, which saves him from a lifetime of imprisonment. While John creates another façade for his evaluator in the trauma center, he reveals his true past to the reader, which includes a misdiagnosed mental illness as a child, jail time, emergence as a mathematics prodigy, and his overall disconnection from life, though it all comes down to the only person who is in as much danger as him – the woman who knows his real name.
I originally started to read this novel because my Writing for TV & Film teacher recommended it. He knew of my love of Chuck Palahniuk and thought Craig Clevenger and Palahniuk’s writing styles were similar. (He was correct…but I’ll discuss that later.) Not only that, but on the front cover of the novel is a quote from Palahniuk: “I swear to God this is the best book I have read in easily five years. Easily. Maybe ten years.” Okay. This is actually a huge deal….because, well, Chuck Palahniuk is a big deal. Palahniuk is an extremely incredible writer and virtually isn’t one to go around and promote other novels. So, that was one of the factors as to why I started reading The Contortionist’s Handbook in the first place.
The plotline of this book was extremely fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or read anything quite like this book. A forger who continually overdoses and then recreates himself with a new identity isn’t something one stumbles across often. Also, John is an exceptionally intelligent character. I think there’s something very captivating about a character that is much more intellectual than the average human/more intelligent than I will ever be. Most of the time I just couldn’t wrap my head around the things he was saying or what he was doing (which is not a bad thing!), which also reminded me of Palahniuk’s characters in Invisible Monsters and Fight Club. I just wanted him to keep talking, to keep describing his intricate lifestyle and dark past. With every new identity, John Dolan Vincent became more and more interesting.
Craig Clevenger’s writing style is, too keep it short, very beautiful. I don’t think I could even begin to describe it or adequately give it justice. Clevenger can describe something average and make it sound extraordinary. Once I started reading, I wanted more and more and more. At times it really was difficult to put the book down. (Okay, I started reading this book around two months ago and didn’t pick it up for about a month once I was halfway through…I was busy, I swear.) I usually don’t compare authors because most of them (that I’ve read, at least) are vastly different, but the similarities between Palahniuk and Clevenger is uncanny. Their outlandish, intricate plotlines and characters fueled by their unique writing styles are extremely similar, but I’m sure if they were compared side-by-side, there would be many definitive differences.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Contortionist’s Handbook. The combination of a gripping plotline, beautiful writing style, and fascinating characters really won me over. If you are a fan of any Chuck Palahniuk novel, or are simply interested in an out of the ordinary story, you will love this novel.