My Friend Dahmer: Growing Up With a Future Serial Killer
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most infamous serial killers out there, murdering 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. However, this graphic memoir, by cartoonist Derf Backderf, portrays a different, seldom-seen side to Dahmer, the side Backderf himself experience when he attended middle and high school with him.
Dahmer, as Backderf remembers him, was an odd kid, who hardly interacted with his classmates. Backderf and his friends were some of the few friends he had, and they were mostly fascinated by his tendency to pretend to have fits or have cerebral palsy. Backderf was mostly fascinated how no one, not parents, teachers, or any of the students, really noticed how messed up Dahmer was: he collected roadkill, drank constantly at school, and had extreme difficulty interacting with anyone except through his pretend fits. And yet, he rarely got in trouble, and wasn't even the kid all of the students thought was going to grow up to be a troublemaker!
Using a combination of his own and his classmates' memories, as well as information collected from the FBI, interviews with Dahmer and his parents, and local news sources, Backderf tries to piece together possible explanations for how this all happened. He portrays Dahmer as lonely, psychologically troubled, and going through his parents' particularly horrible divorce, all while being deeply closeted about his homosexuality. Backderf theorizes that the constant drinking (one anecdote has him witnessing Dahmer drink an entire 6 pack of beer over the course of 10 minutes) was a way to drown out the dark thoughts that plagued Dahmer constantly, and points out that Dahmer started killing after he graduated from high school and was left alone at home, his mother having run off with his younger brother to avoid having to split custody with his father.
Dahmer comes across somewhat sympathetically, although Backderf is quick to point out that his sympathy for Dahmer ended when Dahmer became a killer. Dahmer was a charismatic kid (managing to talk himself and two other students into a private tour of Vice President Walter Mondale's office on a school trip to Washington DC), well-liked enough to be a sort of mascot to Backderf and his friends. Backderf views it as a real tragedy that he was consumed by his darker desires.Backderf is also able to explain how Dahmer could seem so normal to his peers, when in reality he was incredibly troubled, explaining how the relatively loose discipline of the 70s allowed teens to almost run wild. He is simultaneously baffled that no adults ever seemed to catch on to the oddities that he and his friends noticed but didn't realize were significant.
All in all, a fascinating and even somewhat chilling book. Backderf manages to make Dahmer both unnerving and sympathetic, and I found myself plunged into the life of this bizarre and troubled young man. Definitely check it out if you run into it.