A review of DERMAPHORIA (Craig Clevenger)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia
Did you know that most “Alpha Males” are, in fact, Beta Males? And that most “Beta Males” are, in fact, Omega Males? Craig Clevenger is an Omega Male who thinks that he is a Beta Male. Chuck Palahniuk is a Beta Male who thinks that he is an Alpha Male. Like all Omega Males, Craig Clevenger slavishly imitates the Beta Male. Craig Clevenger apes Chuck Palahniuk’s this-is-how-pre-teens-talk writing “style,” which is no style at all.
Clevenger’s DERMAPHORIA (2005) will excruciate you with its illiteracy. Consider the following sentences:
1.) “Clumps of hair had melted together around one of his ears, which had swollen into a knot of blistered cartilage” .
How could clumps of hair melt together?
2.) “He was sobbing as he spoke, trying to snow me with some cheap excuse like some eight-year-old while spitting out a stream of expletives with ‘hospital’ thrown in every three or four words” [Ibid.].
What? This sentence is scarcely intelligible. How could someone “snow” someone else with a single “excuse”? “Eight year old” does not require hyphenation. “Like” should never be used conjunctionally. Taken literally, the phrase “some cheap excuse like some eight-year-old” means that the “cheap excuse” is like an eight year old. Will MacAdam/Cage publish anything that comes over the transom, and did they copy-edit this book, or was the effort too herculean for them?
3.) “I slip my fingers beneath your shirt to the slice of flesh above your hips that feels so good in the dark but you hate so much” .
Read literally, the final clause means that “you” “hate so much” in general, that “you” hate everyone and everything. The context suggests, however, that “you” hate “the slice of flesh above your hips.” A slightly less illiterate, slightly less irritating way of writing the sentence would be: “I slip my fingers beneath your shirt to the slice of flesh above your hips that you hate so much but that feels so good in the dark.”
4.) “Some kid approached me with no finesse whatsoever, and asked me for ecstacy [sic]” .
Now, this is a sentence that only a beefhead would write. Could Clevenger have come up with a more exciting verb than “to approach”? Evidently not. The comma is superfluous, and do I really need to point out that “ecstacy” should be spelled “ecstasy”?
5.) “He was wearing tan work pants and dark brown work boots, and with the combination of colors, dark grey and tan, sitting in the sharp daytime shadows of the dilapidated desert house, he’s invisible” .
“He’s” is not the contraction of “he was.” There is no contraction for “he was.” When Clevenger writes, “dark grey,” doesn’t he mean “dark brown”? The chuckies don’t care about such errors; after all, they aren’t very detail-oriented, are they? Page after page, Clevenger is foundering and floundering, flailing and failing. He cannot write.
Mencken once pointed out that most bad writers have congenital deficiencies — to write clearly, after all, one must think clearly. But I would say that the converse holds as well: To think clearly, one must write clearly. Clevenger does not know how to write because he does not know how to think, and he does not know how to think because he does not know how to write. He is inarticulate and slow-witted.
Clevenger is an experienced writer of literature in the same way and to the same degree that a eunuch is an experienced lover. He has no relationship to literature other than a negative relationship or the relation of a non-relation. His sentences sound like Metallica lyrics. It is not fortuitous that Clevenger’s Work in Progress is called SAINT HERETIC: One can hear in the title resonances of SAINT ANGER, an album by Metallica. Like most chuckies, Clevenger has spent more time listening to heavy metal than he has reading books.
Craig Clevenger is a chuckling chucklehead. He is nothing more than a soldier in Chuck Palahniuk’s army of mentally disenfranchised Everymen.
Dr. Joseph Suglia