My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My Friend Dahmer is that rare comic, coming in the form of what I truly would describe as the emphatic narrative, worthy of comparisons to Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and the equally haunting “Kalifornia”. Brooding and engrossing in its long take on the famous cannibal, this is a truly harrowing portrait of a would-be mass murderer.
Dahmer’s mother has a turret’s like syndrome; his father is absent. He lives a solitary life dissecting dead rodents and making fun of people’s handicaps. He also has a friend. His name is Derf Backderf…
Backderf seems content to zero in on the minutiae of Dahmer’s life but avoids the pitfalls of actually trying to pinpoint the cause of Dahmer’s disease. Is he a product of narcissism and bullying or a lonely child bored with the world around him?
There seems to be no easy way of finding out, other than to see who Dahmer was as a teenager, getting drunk with his high school pals while simultaneously freaking out his fellow classmates.
I was enthralled with what must have been my own morbid curiosity, devouring the novel in one sitting. The narrative isn’t thrilling nor suspenseful. Like a David Lynch painting, it’s simply engrossing in its cartoonish grotesqueness, as if Dahmer is just another creature in a test tube waiting to be spied on by the lab’s visitors.
And just like the best psychological case studies, “My Friend Dahmer” doesn’t even try to answer any of our pressing questions. Backderf assures us in the introduction to this edition that he wants to make sure everyone comes away knowing full well Dahmer was guilty as shit for his crimes and deserved his life in prison and untimely death, but that feels more like an artist’s stamp rather than the actual take of the artwork.
Just as Backderf seems content to merely have known this bizarre madman, we are merely viewers to a freak show that on the surface seems almost ordinary. And perhaps that is what makes this a most chilling read. Haven’t we all had a classmate who makes fun of people with Down’s Syndrome?