You know when you get the notification that your hold has arrived at the library, and you ask yourself, “What the heck is that and why did I put it on hold??” I had that moment a couple weeks ago when The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger arrived on the employee hold shelf. I read and re-read the summary, looked at it on Amazon, and wracked my brain. Still, nothing. But it looked good so I kept it, listened to it, and loved it! So I sit down to write a review of it for this here blog and look to Google for an image and…then I remembered why I put myself on hold for it.
It’s going to be a movie.
So now that the mystery of why I put myself on hold for it has been solved, allow me to review it.
The contortionist in The Contortionist’s Handbook is not really a contortionist in the circus manner. Instead, Johnny manipulates paper, ink, and federal records to create identities for himself and others (for which he is handsomely paid). He wouldn’t really need new identities for himself except for the sporadic “god-splitters”, the headaches that land him in the ER with what look like an overdose of pain killers (his at-home attempt to squelch the pain). The “overdose” looks like a suicide attempt, earning him a long conversation with the on-call psychologist. The novel takes place during one such conversation, with re-tellings of stories from his formidable years, time in juvie, girlfriends, jobs, past god-splitters and conversations with psychologists, etc.
The novel is an exciting one, though every so often I asked myself, “Wait, nothing is really happening. He’s just telling us how he got here.” But there would be a twist or a shock, or a new character would enter the scene and I’d be drawn right back in, learning as much about Eric, Steve, or Paul…or whoever he was at the moment. His connections to and experiences with the mob (the middle men between the people who needed forged documents, and the man who made the forged documents) were predictable. Nothing new there. But they existed just enough in the story to keep it unsafe, never over-the-top or unbelievable. I appreciated that.
I found the book to be a lot like Josh Bazell‘s Beat the Reaper and its sequel Wild Thing. Mob, sarcastic narrator, and foil characters that didn’t take away from the main story, just enhanced it. I will be encouraging men to read this book. It has action, drugs, a little sex, and a whole lot of fascinating details about the life of a forger. I worry that Clevenger might be on someone’s watch list right now…he clearly knows a lot about something he should not know about.