Book Review: “My Friend Dahmer”

My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf
originally published: March 2012
finished reading: 29 December 2011 (review copy)

Extremely disturbing. I have this fascination with serial killers and I’m not sure where it comes from. I love watching the shows where they take you into a prison to talk to the prisoners and look into why they committed their crimes. My husband frequently says, “Why do you watch that stuff?” I can’t answer.

My book rep friend had this on his shelf of things I could pick through and of course I snapped it up. As graphic novels go, it’s dark and the drawings are kind of chunky, but I think that adds to the alienation of the subject matter. Backderf actually knew Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and brings a unique perspective to his life.

Dahmer was a complex guy and Backderf shows his high school career through a teenager’s eyes. All of the friends knew something was wrong with Dahmer, but they incorporated his weirdness into their own lives – up to a point. Backderf illustrates how each of his close friends interacted with Dahmer until they had enough, an encounter that felt so wrong they stopped seeing him as a harmless goof and saw a glimmer of the monster he really was.

Interesting book, but deeply, profoundly disturbing. Backderf brings up a point throughout the story – how did all the adults in Dahmer’s life miss what was really going on? Saying that it was the culture of the 70s only goes so far. How does an alcoholic teenage boy who has a thing for taking apart road kill just keep flying under the radar? I have no answers, but what I keep coming back to is, how many more of them are there? It’s been keeping me up at night.

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