Joanna's Reviews > My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
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F 50x66
's review
Sep 28, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: 1960s-1970s, 2010s, biography, comix, amurika
Read in September, 2012

This was really disappointing. So... it's sorta a memoir by this guy who knew and kinda bullied Jeffrey Dahmer when he was in High School. Sounds okay! How can that be boring.

It's kinda boring.

Problem is, I'm more sympathetic to Dahmer than Derf! That's crazy! I mean, it's Dahmer and Derf is just like... a douche. But even then the douchiest douche can't possibly inspire more negative feelings than a goddamn serial killer! I mean... can it?

Derf's not even that much of a douche. Kinda flawed in the self-reflection department (a glaring weakness in this memoir, and dammit memoirs need genius level self-reflections to be readable), but one of those nice, ambitious boys who got out of midwest suburbia to work in creative fields. Still, reading his book just made me kinda angry. Like, didn't he learn anything? Everything in this book is emotionally defensive. Like... okay Derf, you knew Dahmer? Do you feel regret over not treating him as kindly as you could have? Do you feel scared knowing that someone capable of doing such things was a relatively normal-seeming human being standing right next to you? Do you feel fooled? Derf spends like one second on uncomfortable, unflattering questions and then, snap! blames the "adults" and moves on. It seems like the most emotion he can display here is disgust. So that's this book. Disgust and tired armchair psychiatry. I guess what I mean is Derf should have explored his own emotions and actions instead of trying to figure out Dahmer's, which was obviously something out of his psychiatric and empathic league.

But the art was great.
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03/19/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by KC (new) - rated it 4 stars

KC Love this review.


message 2: by Jimi (new)

Jimi You've highlighted something I thought I might be the only one to feel about this book, although I think Derf is trying to justify his complicity in the outcasting of Dahmer rather than being emotionally defensive. That said, I've spoken to John Backderf a few times online and he seems like an okay guy.


Joanna Jimi wrote: "You've highlighted something I thought I might be the only one to feel about this book, although I think Derf is trying to justify his complicity in the outcasting of Dahmer rather than being emoti..."

Hello! Yeah, he's probably an okay guy, but I'll never want to talk to him about Jeffrey Dahmer. Seems like he might be touchy about it, which is fair.


message 4: by Jimi (new)

Jimi Joanna wrote: "Jimi wrote: "You've highlighted something I thought I might be the only one to feel about this book, although I think Derf is trying to justify his complicity in the outcasting of Dahmer rather tha..."

Oh, without a doubt, it's obviously a very private matter for him and I wouldn't dream of asking him anything about Dahmer as he's already shared as much as he's willing to in the book.


Tiger No offense, but I think your review is a bit flawed, as you criticize the book for succeeding at exactly what it sets out to do. You say that the problem is that you become sympathetic to Dahmer, but the way I read it, that was exactly the point. There are no good guys in this story what so ever, and from parents who were never there, to violent teachers, to bullying jocks, to the sadistic psycho Lloyd Figg, even down the douchy author himself, everyone acts like assholes. You miss self reflection and regret from the author on account of the way he treated Dahmer, but I think the book is all the more powerful for not making any excuses, and the author daring to portray himself in such a detrimental way. Part of being a teenager is doing all sorts of stupid things, and this book is not about the author making regrets, rather he admits some of the shoddy things he did, and lets the events speak for themselves.

You say figuring out Dahmer is out of the author’s psychiatric league, but while professors of psychology can try all they want to make sense of Dahmer and write long theses based upon years of study, this book is called “My Friend Dahmer”, and from the writer’s point of view, the monstrous cannibal was just another kid. The book makes this perfectly clear at the very end, when the news breaks about someone from his hometown being a murderer, and the author’s first guess is that it must be Lloyd Figg. The point being: it could have been any of them. They all grew up the same place and struggled with their own issues, and the ones who acted the worst back then, were not necessarily the ones who turned out the worst later in life.


Joanna Tiger wrote: "No offense, but I think your review is a bit flawed, as you criticize the book for succeeding at exactly what it sets out to do. You say that the problem is that you become sympathetic to Dahmer, b..."

Hi! No worries about offense! I actually loved it. I'm pleased that my review inspired a thoughtful response. I understand how you could get this reading from the book. I could see how the narrative technique of... letting things be left unsaid and the events speak for themselves could work. It allows the reader to explore and come to their own conclusions, which is exactly how some readers might want a work like this to be. Sometimes I might count myself as one of them! In any case, I just thought the book itself just wasn't very good. When it focuses on the teenagers, well, to me it just seems like a bunch of kids being brats, and that's boring. And then when it tries to become more than kids being brats, it fails to interest me because it didn't actually have any explicit insight that made me go "Oh, now that's interesting!" and well... since reading this book I have come to the conclusion that I don't find real serial killers to be all that interesting, for the most part. Actually, I have also since discovered that I should stay the hell away from memoirs because I basically find people telling me their life story and all the intricacies therein to be horrendously boring. I think it's great that you have come to these insights about life, but if you can imagine someone who has like, the exact opposite sensitivities, well that's where I am.


Tiger I completely get where you're coming from =)

As you mention in your original review that you thought the artwork was great, I recommend you check out the amazing graphic novel Black Hole, which features rather similar drawings, and might be more insightful and analytic of the human psyche, albeit relying more on symbolism and metaphors. Truly a great read.


Joanna Black Hole! It does look interesting, but I haven't read it yet. I pick it up occasionally. It does seem more like my preferred type of storytelling. Insightful and analytic, mmmmm... yes, good.


Sarah Right there with ya...


message 10: by Bob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bob Rosenbaum I see it differently. Derf is not just an artist but a journalist. My read is that he was trying to tell it like it was -as straight as possible. The blind spot about his own role is part of the story and wittingly or not, the way he tiptoes around the issue feels authentic to me.


Joanna Bob wrote: "I see it differently. Derf is not just an artist but a journalist. My read is that he was trying to tell it like it was -as straight as possible. The blind spot about his own role is part of the st..."

Yeah, I see where you are coming from. I think quite a few people had the same reading you did on it, or pretty similar, in that the blind spot added to their understanding rather than distracted. Personally, I didn't find that blind spot interesting. :( My loss, truly!


Olivia So you're upset because one of the characters was a douche? Do you wish that the author would have reported something other than the facts?


Adrianne Mueller Thank you!!!! This review sums up exactly how I feel and I really thought I was the only one who felt this. The whole time I was reading it I wasn't into it and I've been struggling to put into words just what my issues with this book were.


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