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My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
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's review
Oct 11, 2012

it was amazing
Read in October, 2012

The most grotesque thing about this graphic novel memoir of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is author/artist Backderf's intentionally grotesque R.Crumb-ish drawing style. OK, well, also there are a couple of panels of roadkill and the horrible things the young Jeff Dahmer did to those animals, but this book does not seek to titillate or illustrate grownup Dahmer's horrible crimes. Instead Backderf, who went to high school with Dahmer, gives a complex and humanizing account of a young man isolated from teenage society...a boy who knew he had dark urges but had no one to turn to for help on what to do about them. Backderf never excuses Dahmer's later crimes, and in a written poscript makes clear that he has no sympathy for the adult Dahmer's behavior. But Backderf does imply that he feels somewhat implicit for making Dahmer into a social joke and in doing nothing to alleviate young Jeff's isolation or to report to adults Dahmer's erratic offputting behavior. But the author also directly indicts the adults of Dahmer's teenage years: his absent parents and the high school teachers who allowed students to come to school drunk, high, tardy without consequence. At one point Backderf asks: Where were the adults? We'll never know if the young Jeff Dahmer could have been saved from acting out in his twisted urges and whether the many people he killed could have been saved as well, but Backderf strongly implies that if things had been even a little bit better for the young Jeff Dahmer, there would have been a different outcome. An intense, fascinating, disturbing, empathetic read.

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