Verdict: THE HERMAPHRODITIC CONTORTIONIST's meandering forays into jurisprudence are numbing and draw a reader away from the plot. However, when the plot does rise above the politics, the writing is interesting and, at times, even humorous.
This is not one, but two books: a diatribe on Constitutional Law and a story about a drug deal. Unfortunately, the story about the drug deal, the better of the two stories, is buried within the bulk of this large book. In the first page, we are introduced to Leslie, a thirty something English teacher who evidently memorized every word on his SAT vocabulary list and never fails to use a polysyllabic phrase when a single word will suffice. His life is tepid and directionless until he receives a note from Dave, his old college friend who took the blame for a drug deal that Leslie set up when they shared a dorm room. Dave’s life has been on a downward spiral since then and he is once again facing prison time. He asks Leslie for a favor, a big one that will erase Leslie’s debt to him. It involves retrieving some marijuana that Dave has in California and transporting it back to Michigan where it will be used to pay for his legal defense. Leslie goes to California and becomes enmeshed in the world of drug trafficking and smuggling.
THE HERMAPHRODITIC CONTORTIONIST has some interesting moments, mostly in the retrieval story and Mangle’s prose can, on occasion, approach poetry in his description of a sunrise or the sweep of the Pacific coastline. The story of the journey to California and back has long portions dealing with the Constitution, politics, the common good and numerous critiques of people and their inability to think. On his first night of the journey to California, Leslie reacts to a talk radio show with nearly fifty pages of commentary. Of the many commentaries in this book, each of them uses phrases like “epidermal surface” instead of skin or “lingual appendage” instead of tongue. This contributes to making the trip to California seem interminable. The book ends oddly with Dave’s courtroom diatribe. A reader is supposed to suspend the belief that no judge would interrupt testimony to allow a defendant to speak, especially since it is off the record, with the jury still in the courtroom. David’s jeremiad goes on for about 60 pages where he questions the validity of laws that are based on the common good. For good measure, he manages to denigrate Utilitarianism as being too subjective to be the basis of our laws and that legislators who write these laws are hermaphroditic contortionists. For good measure, he questions the concept of judicial checks legislation and misreads the Magna Carta as a document pertaining to all people rather than just the nobility. The book does not end in a flourish, rather with a sigh of relief.
THE HERMAPHRODITIC CONTORTIONIST’s meandering forays into jurisprudence are numbing and draw a reader away from the plot. However, when the plot does rise above the politics, the writing is interesting and, at times, even humorous.
Reviewed by Ed Bennett for IndieReader