Thursday, November 16, 2017

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Release Date - March 1, 2012
Publisher Website - Abrams
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  230 pages
My Rating - 4/5

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer—the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper—seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, "Jeff" was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche—a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget.
My Friend Dahmer is a hard book to review and rate. The author is detailing something that obviously left an enormous impact on them. It is not a fictional account of true events, but a first person account of events as they believe them. My Friend Dahmer makes you want to discuss and unpack what is within its pages, and if that was the author's goal they certainly succeeded.

Those with even a passing interest in following true crime media (shows, podcasts, etc) will have heard of Jeffrey Dahmer and the horrific crimes he committed. This graphic novel is not interested in telling you the story you already know. It doesn't want to rehash the details of his crimes. It, instead, wants to look at his childhood and the path Jeffrey took to becoming a serial killer.

I don't typically read graphic novels, but was glad to have picked this one up when I finished. The art style is captivating and adds another layer to the story being told. The ability to convey emotions with a single image and little to no words is, to me, breathtaking. The story being told lends itself to this style of storytelling. I found myself lingering over images and having to close the book to fully process what was happening, especially as the story grew increasingly dark. It is unsettling in a way that stays with you. It has also made me more willing to check out other graphic novels as I really appreciated the detail and thought that went into telling this story.

The heart of this novel, for me, was a few different things. It reads like Derf Backderf trying to, in his own way, digest and process the reality of someone he, at one point, considered a sort of friend being a serial killer. It also asks the question of whether Jeffrey Dahmer could have gone down a different path. The answer, maybe surprisingly, is yes. Derf Backderf paints a, sometimes, sympathetic portrait of a young man who was quickly being lost to the growing urges inside him. A young man who displayed signs of needing help that were mostly ignored. It never makes apologies or excuses what Jeffrey Dahmer went on to do, but simply highlights the ways in which the adults around him failed to pay attention. Many of the warning signs, like his alcohol abuse, were brushed aside because they were not looked at in the same way they are now. Other warning signs, however, were inexplicably ignored. It, to me, felt clear that he does blame the adults in Jeffrey's life for not paying more attention, and it paints a convincing argument. It was interesting to see this gradual progress and spiral contrasted with what Derf and his friends were doing during this time. It offers this dual narrative that made the story feel surreal at times. It's a great narrative tool, and one that serves this story well.

The novel's ending lingers with you and ensures that you are both unsettled and stripped of any possible sympathy you had felt towards Jeffrey during the novel. It brilliantly lays out a juxtaposition of before and after. There is no going back for Jeffrey from the events that this novel leaves off on, and that is sort of the point. This novel asked if the path taken could have ever diverged onto a new one, and any chance of that happening is lost as the novel ends. It's where this particular story should end for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that it is the only ending that fits the story being told. The graphic novel format used is successful in creating apprehension and tension in these final moments and perhaps says more than words ever could.

My Friend Dahmer is a fascinating read for those interested in true crime. It offers up a dark coming of age story and asks some pretty thought provoking questions. It offers a different perspective than the usual true crime story, and does it well. It's certainly an unforgettable read, and one I highly recommend.

1 comment:

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