Well, this was one of the more depressing books I've read this year.
My Friend Dahmer is an account of Jeffrey Dahmer's teen years—the years just before he began killing—written in comic book format by one of his high school classmates, Derf Backderf. As Backderf draws heavily from his own recollections of and interactions with Dahmer, it works, in part, as a memoir, but he also spoke with former classmates and did a huge amount of research—there are pages and pages of notes at the end* in which he lists all of the various places (books, news reports, interviews) he pulled details from—so it works as a work of nonfiction as well.
That was probably a more long-winded explanation than you needed, but I always find it annoying that "graphic novel" is used as a catch-all term for the format, even in the instances in which the book in question isn't a novel. Anyway.
It's an outstanding book. The story isn't sensationalized, and there's no exploitation of Dahmer or his victims. It's a sad story about a tormented person set during a weird time in an everyday place. Backderf's inclusion of scenes featuring his own family and friends serve as a striking parallel to Dahmer's experience at home and at school, and in addition to the partial biography of Dahmer, the book also serves as a very specific portrait of a small Ohio town in the 1970s.
There's a big difference between searching for the reasons behind something—trying to understand—and making excuses. This book falls firmly in the former category. Backderf stresses in his introduction that he doesn't sympathize for Dahmer-the-monster, but that he has pity for Dahmer-the-lonely-kid. And that comes through: he successfully separates the pre-killings Dahmer from the post-killings Dahmer, and he makes it really easy to feel for the pre-killings Dahmer. In My Friend Dahmer, he's a kid with no one to turn to—if adults didn't even notice his rampant alcoholism, it's hard to imagine him turning to any of them for help—struggling against violent, ugly urges that he knows are wrong.
Ultimately, he gives into them, and we all know where the story goes from there.
Blerg. I need recommendations for a happy book, please.
*Which are easily as interesting as the rest of the book.
Happily, while it’s true that Libby’s vision of Catherine Howard is much more sympathetic—The King’s Rose is written from Catherine’s perspective, which allows for a more immediate intimacy—Katherine Longshore’s depiction of Catherine Howard is quite well-rounded. She’s manipulative, tempestuous (behind closed doors), power-hungry, selfish and short-sighted, but it’s always worth remembering that she’s also 16 years old. She’s married to an ailing, sad old man, and she longs for romance. That she would chafe at her lack of freedom is easily understandable, that her power would occasionally go to her head is easily believable, and the rare glimpses we get of her sadness and her fear are affecting. It’s a darker, more nuanced portrait than the Sexy Nose Hair cover art implies.
Trust me? Add this to your list. Don’t trust me? Add it to your list anyway. Fan of historical fiction? Espionage? World War II stories? Add it, add it, add it. Even if your tastes don’t usually tend in that direction, you need to pick it up anyway. It will make you dissolve into a puddle, and then, once you’ve recovered, you’ll immediately read it all over again. That’s what I did.
As previously stated, I adored this book. Among its other perfections it has caused "You'd best tone that shit
down, son" to become a regular line in the Household of Doom, as
well as inspiring an uptick in quoting the nihilists from The Big Lebowski*.
I loved it for Greg, who—unlike many a boy in books about cancer—is not wise, thoughtful, mature, sweet, generous, or even all that nice, but is real, relatable, slappable**, and hilarious. I loved it for Earl, who is just plain wonderful—and who, even though Greg is so self-absorbed that he hardly even knows him, comes off as a real, believable person. A real, believable, hilarious person.
And I loved it for being a YA book about cancer that, in Greg's words:
So if this were a normal book about a girl with leukemia, I would probably talk a shitload about all the meaningful things Rachel had to say as she got sicker and sicker, and also probably we would fall in love and have some incredibly fulfilling romantic thing and she would die in my arms. But I don't feel like lying to you. She didn't have meaningful things to say, and we definitely didn't fall in love.
Which isn't to say, of course, that life can't or doesn't ever go the other way (dying and falling in love and deep thoughts and so on), but books that tell stories like that are much more common than books that tell stories like this. At least, I can't think of another one along these lines. Then again, I do tend to avoid the Crying Books.
This one wasn't, by the way. A Crying Book. For me, at any rate.
As Greg is hugely interested in film—and hugely disinterested in
writing the book—he tends to switch up the format on a regular basis, so
it goes from prose to screenplay (the back and forths between Greg and
his mother KILLED ME) to lists (his Failed Girl Tactics are wonderful)
to pages of pure dialogue. I laughed all the way through it. Laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.
It's not going to work for everyone: as I said previously, Greg and Earl are remarkably profane and dirty-minded. But wait, there's more! Throughout the book, Greg complains about writing, about how bad his book is, about how much he'd rather be doing something other than writing, and calls the readers dumb for continuing to read... which, I'd imagine, would go over not-so-well with some readers. And, of course, again, he's self-absorbed and decidedly not empathetic or thoughtful. Some people will HATE him.
But some, like me, will love him.
*It was this passage, about Greg and Earl's obsession with Klaus Kinski's Aguirre, the Wrath of God that did it. (Keep in mind that they were ten years old at the time):
"The young nihilists," Dad called us. "What are nihilists?" "Nihilists believe that nothing has any meaning. They believe in nothing." "Yeah," Earl said. "I'm a nihilist." "Me, too," I said. "Good for you," Dad said, grinning. Then he stopped grinning and said, "Don't tell your mom."
That, combined with the fact that they are later obsessed with the movie Withnail and I, that there's a chapter called "I Put the "Ass" in "Casanova"", and that Chapter One begins, "So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks" might serve as a good barometer for the tone of this book.
It occurs to me that this has become a ridonkulusly long footnote, so I'm going to head back up to the top of the page.
**I don't know what you're talking about. That's totally a word.
Some of her questions do get asked and answered, others don't. On one hand, in that regard, it's the most realistic book I've read in a while. On the other, it definitely feels like a Literary Fiction Book on a Summer Reading List. Not because of any literary pyrotechnics—Adrienne's voice is very straight-forward and frank—but because of the plotline and again, the feel.
Diana Wynne Jones is clearly an influence here. There are a bazillon seemingly unrelated threads that don't always seem to jive—sometimes they even seem extraneous—at the time, but by the end, everything somehow magically fits together. Magically, mind you. It doesn't feel contrived or forced. It feels inevitable and right, as a fairy tale should.
So often, authors write—and we read—survival stories for pure entertainment. As you may have gathered, Never Fall Down doesn't read like that: rather, it reads as testimony from someone who witnessed (and survived) something that just shouldn't be. And, as with Between Shades of Gray last year, in reading it, it makes us witnesses as well, albeit a few very large steps removed.
But, overall... it was just... lacking. Lacking in the spunky verve of the first two books, lacking in the suspense and romance, and lacking in the energy, period. Some of the lethargic feel can be chalked up to Scarlett's general emotional state, but not all of it. Kiss of Death just didn't POP! like the first two.
I don't know if there's a way, in text, for me to convey just how much I loved this book. Any attempt would involve WAAAAAAAAHEYHEY more exclamation points, capital letters and hearts than ANYONE should be subjected to on a Monday morning.