My Friend Dahmer -- Derf Backderf

My friend dahmer

Well, this was one of the more depressing books I've read this year.

My Friend Dahmer is an account of Jeffrey Dahmer's teen years—the years just before he began killing—written in comic book format by one of his high school classmates, Derf Backderf. As Backderf draws heavily from his own recollections of and interactions with Dahmer, it works, in part, as a memoir, but he also spoke with former classmates and did a huge amount of research—there are pages and pages of notes at the end* in which he lists all of the various places (books, news reports, interviews) he pulled details from—so it works as a work of nonfiction as well.

That was probably a more long-winded explanation than you needed, but I always find it annoying that "graphic novel" is used as a catch-all term for the format, even in the instances in which the book in question isn't a novel. Anyway.

It's an outstanding book. The story isn't sensationalized, and there's no exploitation of Dahmer or his victims. It's a sad story about a tormented person set during a weird time in an everyday place. Backderf's inclusion of scenes featuring his own family and friends serve as a striking parallel to Dahmer's experience at home and at school, and in addition to the partial biography of Dahmer, the book also serves as a very specific portrait of a small Ohio town in the 1970s.

There's a big difference between searching for the reasons behind something—trying to understand—and making excuses. This book falls firmly in the former category. Backderf stresses in his introduction that he doesn't sympathize for Dahmer-the-monster, but that he has pity for Dahmer-the-lonely-kid. And that comes through: he successfully separates the pre-killings Dahmer from the post-killings Dahmer, and he makes it really easy to feel for the pre-killings Dahmer. In My Friend Dahmer, he's a kid with no one to turn to—if adults didn't even notice his rampant alcoholism, it's hard to imagine him turning to any of them for help—struggling against violent, ugly urges that he knows are wrong.

Ultimately, he gives into them, and we all know where the story goes from there.

Blerg. I need recommendations for a happy book, please.


*Which are easily as interesting as the rest of the book.


Author page.




Book source: ILL through my library.