Work, work and more work getting in the way of the most important stuff…
… reading. So: impressions of books, rather than actual reviews of books.
My friend Dahmer (by Derf Backderf)
I was too young to experience the whole Dahmer-thing consciously. Obviously during my own ‘fascinated by serial killers’ phase (doesn’t everyone have one?), the name Dahmer was a chiller. Derf Backderf went to the same high school as Jeffrey Dahmer and after Dahmer got arrested, Backderf – a talented graphic artist – started to put his memories of his “Friend Dahmer” to paper in the form of his own artwork (in all seriousness, Dahmer really wasn’t “a friend” at all, that much is clear from this book).
Actually, Backderf already started to draw Dahmer when he was in highschool… Dahmer was a weird kid, who seemed to just exist and was a total social outcast at first, but then became an almost raving lunatic impersonating his mother’s interior decorator, and who ended up as the school drunk (which Backderf sees as a severe coping mechanism, especially after Dahmer discovers his sexual preferences) whom people tried to avoid at all cost.
Yes, people (adults) should have seen that something was off with Dahmer, but aren’t there tons of weird kids in a high school? How many of them end up as serial killers? It’s a telling fact that when Backderf was notified of the fact that one of his high school classmates was arrested for murdering all these people, his first guess *wasn’t* Dahmer, but another one of his classmates…
Anyone reading this book expecting a sensationalist account of Dahmer’s crimes, look elsewhere. My Friend Dahmer is all about Dahmer’s disturbing home life, Dahmer in high school and how he was perceived by classmates but also how he was used by his classmates. Backderf doesn’t just rely on his own memory, though, he also did a ton of research into Dahmer’s family and teenage life. Backderf is also quite insistent that his novel is not about ‘making excuses’ for Dahmer’s crimes. Yes, you can feel pity for Dahmer up until his first murder, but that’s where empathy and pity stop for Backderf. What Backderf is trying to do is finding reasons, or at least, contributing reasons for what Dahmer did.
My main ‘objection’ to this graphic novel / memoir has nothing to do with the artwork (which is really in line with the topic: quite expressionistic and slightly grotesque). It is with the amount of meta-text. OK, this is partly a memoir and partly a journalistic effort, but I didn’t actually need all the “explanations” to piece together what was going on in this novel. If what is written as meta-text is there to make the reader think about e.g. nature vs. nurture, well, even then, I didn’t need it. As I said, the drawings are quite expressionistic and tell a tale. Dialogue can convey a lot, and then meta-text is just too much. In other words, I think that Backderf is a much better graphic artist and illustrator than he is a writer… but, hey, that’s just me, right? James Ellroy seemed to dig this book a lot, so choose who you want to believe 😉
The Darkest Minds (by Alexandra Bracken)
This book combines a number of tropes that have been popular in the last couple of years: dystopian and/or apocalyptic madness, psychic or otherwise supergifted kids (sometimes even locked up), a romance that might be (or not) and a whole lot of running around that may or may not amount to anything. Rather than being wholly unoriginal, however, Bracken has enough talent to pull things together somewhat… But, despite the fact that it’s clocking in a hefty 488 pages, there are on the one hand elements at the heart of this book that clearly needed to be explored more (the weird disease IAAN that affects kids but not adults and why ‘governments’ don’t try to find the cause etc. etc.). At the same time, though, this book also could have used a big comb to weed out some of its needless inconsistencies and superfluous ‘running around scenes’… No, running around does not speed up the action but slows things down and it definitely did not increase the tension (messy comes to mind). This book – and this writer – shows a lot of promise but needs just that final push to get me on the edge of my seat…