Ray's Reviews > I Am Not A Serial Killer

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
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's review
Apr 14, 2010

it was ok
Read in April, 2010

Watch out for spoilers below:

Wow. I really did not dig this book which apparently puts me in somewhat of a minority among GoodReads readers.

It started relatively strong: The idea that someone could recognize them self as a sociopath hooked me. The usual depiction of sociopaths is that they are brilliant but so egocentric that they can't understand their dysfunction.

However, even though we learn in the first few chapters that our narrator thinks he is a sociopath, the next logical question is not asked: Is living without empathy is really a dysfunction at all?

There is a lot of societal construction and morality that play into how we think/talk about that idea. I think I'd come down heavily on the side of not wanting to live without empathy, but testing out the reasons why (via my reading of this book) would have been interesting.

Instead, I felt like the victim of a gimmick. Like, "Gee, I bet serial killer books will sell well."

I don't know a ton about sociopaths, but for one, I am not sure they are all serial killers. So I would have appreciated some exposition that would help me understand why this kid had such violent urges.

Two, can someone who has no empathy regain it? I suppose that's mostly a question for the researchers and experts in the field, but it seems unlikely that the kind of conversion achieved by the end of the novel is possible.

Three, I find it annoying when all of the characters in a book swear like Mormons, and the author is himself a Mormon, yet the words Mormon or LDS are never uttered to contextualize moral and cultural behavior that is recognizable as non-mainstream.

I realize that a novel generally has to put its characters through some kind of changes to create a narrative that people will want to engage with. However, the changes here felt too contrived. I will see what comes next in the series to see if it gets better, but not that impressed with the beginning.

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Comments (showing 1-2)

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Kris Irvin Really? One of your complaints is that there isn't enough swearing? Wow, I never thought I'd hear someone say that.

Carmaletta Hilton As far as the swearing goes, another commenter mentioned that the book was originally supposed to be Young Adult, but the publishers decided to go with adult fiction. YA doesn't have a lot of swearing in it, so that would explain that.

As far as sociopaths... There is a great point made in the book that Neblin tries to get through to John. While most serial killers are sociopaths, most sociopaths are not serial killers. It's one of those things that needs to be taken on a case by case basis, and that's what this was. This was John's case. And as for why he has these violent urges? Honestly, it's not a question anyone can answer. Not all sociopaths do have them, and since the serial killers themselves don't even understand why they want to do these things, it's going to be harder for us. One of the things the author did right was to stay in John's mind. He doesn't know why the thoughts are there, what causes them, and it would have been odd to have someone on the outside come in and say, "Okay, this is why you think that way."

Also, lack of empathy is not the only symptom of sociopathy. And also, it's stated that you can't even diagnose someone as a sociopath until they're past 18, because sometimes, these things do change in adolescence. Occasionally, empathy is learned or something in the brain chemistry changes during adolescence. With this character? I doubt it's going to change. He probably is a sociopath, but the counterpoints to his sociopathy and what it means are all laid out by his therapist in the book.

I apologize if I come off as combative, as on rereading this before posting, I realized might happen. I don't even usually respond to other people's reviews on here. I just found it odd that some of the things I'm seeing most used to give this book low marks are things that are actually well explained in the text of the book.

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