My Friend Dahmer, or the becoming of a serial killer

Serial killers are able to arise the curiosity and the interest in many of us. Most people find themselves browsing Jack The Ripper’s Wikipedia page, or Ted Bundy’s, or Ed Gein’s. Somehow, serial killers can drag all of our attention. Somehow we crave for more. Somehow we want to see. At least until it remains a pure theoretical research. I’m pretty sure no one would like to face the next Zodiac killer.

There could be many reasons why some of us find serial killers fascinating. I think the main explanation behind it is to investigate, in a very personal way, how dark the human soul can be. Most of us would never commit such crimes, but at the same time we cannot deny that Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein belong to the human species, just like us. But don’t worry, today we are going to have a different approach to the topic and we are not going to fall into endless philosophical questions.

This long and unnecessary introduction helped me to highlight the main reason why I liked so much the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. We like to think that serial killers are so different from us, but the truth is that, at least at some level, they are not. But let’s procede in a more organized way. Derf Backderf was a high school friend of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, the Milwaukee Monster. That Dahmer. This already sounds promising. And this comic book is his version of that story.

Why is Jeffrey’s story so interesting? Or better, why is Backderf’s point of view so interesting? Well, part of the answer lies in the tool he uses: the comic book. Even if I like words and language I must admit that visual impact has always a strong impact. It is also interesting to notice how Backderf uses this medium in the best way possible. The first sign of that can be found when we take a moment to analyze the arrangement of the pictures in the page. Unlike some other comic books, they are ordinary, simple. There are no overlapping, or objects that cross the border line. Everything is ordinary, and it creates a huge contrast with what is happening inside of them. There is also the choice to use only black and white, which turns out to have a symbolic meaning. Even if it can be banal, it happens often that Jeffrey’s face is black, while the face of the other people with him is white, such as underlining that his thoughts are different, that are evil.

The story of the Milwaukee Monster has been narrated from many and different point of views, but this case is different, because it is more personal. What we get to know is not Dahmer the serial killer, but Dahmer the schoolmate. What Derf Backderf does is to recreate Dahmer’s school years and to look for something that could explain his behaviour.

Jeffrey Dahmer is in and for all a monster. He rapes his victims, he kills them, he performed necrophilia on many of them and ate them. Derf doesn’t justify any of this, and it is crucial for him to make it clear since the beginning. But he can’t prevent himself from still seeing Dahmer as a schoolmate. In the last page of this comic book we have the moment when Derf gets to know what Dahmer has done. What he says to himself is not “What has he done?” or “What has Dahmer done?”, but “What have you done?”. The “you” is personal, is close, is how you would talk to a person you know. There is also the other realization: I could have been one of them. This is the main sensation that get stuck with the reader. It almost leads the reader to wonder if he or she has some close friend that could turn out to be a serial killer.

Backderf work leads us to another consideration. Many people wondered how it was possible that Dahmer’s schoolmates didn’t notice anything different with their friend, but, according to Backderf, there is another question that is more relevant: where were the adults? Why didn’t anyone noticed anything? Why didn’t anyone did something when Dahmen went to school drunk? And again, here the real question is another: have there been a point when, if someone did something different, all of this could have been prevented?

Schermata 2018-11-24 alle 16.25.03

 

Julia E.

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Bodies of Water

The eternal female underworld

I have recently read a book that deals with water and the Thames. Water has always had a strong symbolic meaning, especially in literature. It can be linked with religion, purification, but also with death (drowning, in case I had to be more specific). By “water” we can mean a sea, a lake, the ocean, a river. It is the latest one that interests me the most. As I have already said here, I recently moved to London. Last time I was here I had to walk on the Waterloo Bridge to go to work and it allowed me to see the Thames every single day. This river caught my attention since the first time my eyes laid on it. Why? Because it is different. I used to lived in the countryside and there is a river close to my parent’s home where I spent some time when I was a kid. The water is so transparent that it makes you wonder if it is actually there. It can look too cheesy, or too bucolic to be real, but it cheesy and bucolic, and the point is that looked like positive water. It has a good feeling, if it makes sense. Why am I telling you this? Because the water of Thames is not like that. This river looks more like a sleeping dragon that crosses the city, a silent dragon that keeps all the negativity that saturated the city. Perhaps it is because I knew (almost) how London was back in time, let’s say around the 18th century, when the city was polluted and people died in that water. Every time I look at it I think that it is the same river that Jack the Ripper has seen, or the same one that has lived so many horrible things in history. I have the impression that all the negativity has been trapped by its waters.

I felt that his long preface was necessary to introduce the book I recently read, which is Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie, and now I’m going to write about why it was a reading I enjoyed. We have two temporal storylines, one set in the present with Kirsten, and the other one set in 1871 with Evelyn. Kirsten, a woman that tries to start her life after an unfortunate love story, moves in Wakewater Apartments, that was a sort of hospital where people were cured with water. I know, but this is not the point. The other protagonist was, obviously, a patient.

Both these characters are strongly connected with water, and they seek its presence. The story of Elizabeth is the one that relies more on water and it is the one I like the most because it has also a strong feminist mark. This is possible because Elizabeth spent much of her time trying to save the lost women, mostly prostitutes, who have been destroyed by society. This brings up some moral questions like “Would I be like them if I wasn’t born into the right family?” or “Do I consider myself better than the people I try to help?”. But what I liked most was the way she sees the world. All these women would not be in this position if it wasn’t for men. Yeah. Men are the evil here. I personally don’t believe that men have to be considered the only reason for all human pain, but in the eyes of a 19th-century woman they probably were. Evelyn herself has to be cured by men, because other men decided that she does not fit the role that they want women to cover. The society was shaped by men and women had just to deal with it somehow. Is it for this reason that a lot of them decided to end their life in this way? Maybe they looked for redemption one last time, hoping that water would wash away all their sins and heal their wounds, or maybe it is because the water, the underworld, is where women belong. The world is made for men, who are allowed to live underneath the sun.

The other story, Kirsten’s story, is still connected with water and the Wakewater Apartments. She finds herself alone in this new place and starts to see weird things on the riverbank. The first time she sees the new neighbor, the strange lady whose house is filled with books about women drowned in the Thames. But the second time she sees a beautiful lady with wet hair who seems to come from a different time. Kirsten will try to understand what it means, what the river wants from her. All of this is happens within her personal fight against a betrayed love. The key element in her story is figuring out that we have to let go things that hurt us. Obviously, even her story is spiced with nightmares of women coming out of water and ghosts. At the end, she finds herself to be free from what made her suffer, but irremediably tied to the river, and the gifts it wants from her.

This short novel has all elements that made me love it: the 19th century setting, London, lost women, a feminist spirit, the river that keeps all the secrets and all the sadness within it. It is a journey in one of the deepest scar of human history, the one let by people thinking that half of humankind has less value than the other, and water has been the grave for the victims of it. I have never seen the Thames as a positive river, and for sure I’m not going to change my mind after Bodies of Water.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It is a really unnecessary blog of whom no one really felt the need of. You are welcome.

Yep. That’s it. I had some blogs in the past years, but this is the first one where I write in English. Why? Thanks for the question. The main reason is that I recently moved to London and I want to fully embrace this experience. Also, English is a language that (almost) everyone talks and reads, and it will allow me to reach a wider public. Yeah. I know. You do this for the fame! Well, not really. It is just frustrating to put so much effort on something and having so little back. I’m not saying that my blog will be the best in the world or something like that, but I would like people to have the chance to read it. Maybe they will not like it, and it is ok, but I’m interested in the possibilities. And what are you going to write on this blog? Thank you for the question, it is nice to have such an active public. My main topic will be literature and books. But, I will probably write about some other things, like some nice experiences I will have or some general thoughts that will crowd my head.

I think this is everything for today. Thank you for your attention and come back if you are curious to see what I will post.

Julia