Mar 14 2013
If you liked Memento, read The Contortionist’s Handbook
At the core of Memento is the conceit of the unreliable narrator. Leonard Shelby suffers from short-term memory loss, and uses a series of body tattoos and elaborate notes as he searches for the man who killed his wife. The story does not reach its fruition until the final scene, but the story that builds around the central mystery becomes as rich and tantalizing as learning the identity of killer. Unreliable narrators can be frustrating when poorly executed, but brilliant in capable hands. Craig Clevenger has two of those, and used them to write one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
The Contortionist’s Handbook is set in an interview room at a hospital. Our narrator has been admitted for an attempted suicide, and as he is assessed by a psychiatrist to determine whether he ought to be committed, he guides the reader through every facial tick and response trigger being used to determine his sanity. You see, John Dolan Vincent has been in this position before. He’s a master forger, and in keeping in line with his work, has found himself at the mercy of a hospital doctor many times. As Dolan breaks down the proper reaction to every facet of the suicide risk assessment, the reader is also privy to the rather sordid details of his life.
What makes The Contortionist’s Handbook so compelling is that from the get-go, we know Vincent is a con man. He tells us so. His life is built on fake identities and duping trained professionals. As readers, we never know what to believe, except that the writing is of such a caliber that we want it all to be true. In the same way you cannot start Memento and then go, “eh, you know what, I’ve got faith Leonard will figure it out,” there’s no going back once you start this book.
If you liked Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, you’re probably illiterate.
Don’t worry, no one liked Mr. Magorium, so there’s no one to offend!
If you liked Outbreak and Twelve Monkeys, read The Passage
Outbreak is the story of a virus that rapidly spreads, killing everything in its path. There is shady government involvement and global implications if it isn’t contained. Twelve Monkeys is about a convict who travels back in time to warn his predecessors about a man-made virus that more or less decimated the earth. The Passage is also about a virus, and time travel, and ten thousand other things too.
You’re going to be hearing more about The Passage. A sequel, The Twelve, is due out later this year, but let’s not worry about that yet. The Passage is set in an apocalyptic future, where a shadowy government has done an excellent job of pretty much ruining the entire planet. The book follows a girl named Amy, who is subjected to a horrid government test until she escapes, which leaves her alone in a frightening world, unsure about everything except the unsettling feeling that she is destined to save what’s left of the world.
I can’t give you too much more. The Passage is expertly plotted, but every aspect of that plot is best enjoyed blind. The book is long, but you’ll be rabid for a sequel once you finish it (full disclosure: The Passage is book one of what will eventually be a trilogy). I don’t read this genre heavily, but I am willing to bet this series is destined to take its place next to immortal classics like The Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass.
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