Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Am Not A Serial Killer, a Review

It's been a long time since I've literally not been able to put down a book. Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer is such a book, though. It's been on my radar for a while now, and, as I've been rather unsatisfied in my reading lot for a bit, I spontaneously decided to check the book out at the library.

Truth be told, I devoured this book in about five hours, taking in the bulk of it on a business trip commute, and then finishing it off once I arrived home. But enough about my reading habits.

John Wayne Cleaver is a fifteen year old kid that's struggling to fit in. His mom owns and runs a mortuary, where he helps out, in the small county of Clayton. Furthermore, he's just starting high school, and he's universally accepted as a weird kid. Part of this is because John is obsessed with serial killers, and he'll gladly discuss them with anyone who'll give him an ear.

John knows he's dysfunctional. He accepts it. He also knows that within, behind carefully constructed and guarded walls, a monster lurks. He recognizes how dangerous he is. And even though he loves serial killers, he doesn't want to become one.

When a mutilated body is found behind the local laundromat, John recognizes the signs. It's not a random act of violence, but the work of a real live serial killer. And what can one do when one has a dark obsession?

I was blown away by the book. Dan Wells (who helps run the "Writing Excuses" podcast, along with Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler) crafts beautiful prose and vivid stories. His characters are heartfelt and real (the first-person POV captures John's emotions beautifully and is the perfect perspective for this book). His pacing is that of a 100m-dash, quick and relentless. His comedic timing is literally laugh-out-loud. Below are two of my favorite (SPOILER-FREE) quotes.
Exposure to nature--cold, heat, water--is the most dehumanizing way to die. Violence is passionate and real--the final moments as you struggle for your life, firing a gun or wrestling a mugger or screaming for help, your heart pumps loudly and your body tingles with energy; you are alert and awake and, for that brief moment, more alive and human than you've ever been before. Not so with nature.

It was creepy at first--like sitting very still while a cockroach climbs onto your shoe, up your leg, and under your shirt, and not brushing it away. I imagine myself covered with roaches, spiders, leeches, and more, all wriggling, probing, and tasting, and I had to stay motionless, and let myself become completely accustomed to them.

Are those not wonderful? And this is the tip of the iceberg. His descriptions with fire are also brilliant.

In part, I expected I Am Not A Serial Killer to be a lot like Dexter. What I got was something similar, but altogether different. And this difference--something so completely unexpected--is part of the reason I really enjoyed the book. At first I was like... wait. What?! I re-read the paragraph, and then shrugged and continued on. It worked for me.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a hang up many people have, too. So, you may or may not appreciate the change, but I did, and it works perfectly within the setting of the story. It also opens up possibilities for other things, which is probably why Wells has written two other books featuring John Wayne Cleaver.

Overall, I unexpectedly enjoyed immensely I Am Not A Serial Killer. John was a perfect protagonist, one that I could relate to quite often, as I suspect we all could. For who among us is not intrigued by such dark and morbid creatures, killers that are slaves to their compulsions? I know my thoughts tend to turn dark quite often, and I appreciated Wells creating a flawed character that can (and likely does) exist smoothly in our world.

If you're looking for a book that'll sink its claws in you and drag you along through its bizarre twists and turns, rarely giving you a chance to breathe, then I highly recommend Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer.

4 comments:

David Wagner said...

Hmm... Even with the glowing review, I'm not sure I'll give this one a go. Sounds a bit too creepy. But it sounds like a quick read. Maybe I'll grab the sample off amazon.

Thanks for the review.

contemplatrix said...

good review; though like, David, this might be a bit too creepy for me. But I know a couple of people I will pass this along to--one being the husband (should I worry?). he read the Dexter books, and follows the show. (I should worry, shouldn't I?)

~L

David Wagner said...

L: Just periodically check the icebox, and make sure there's no mystery meat in there, you'll be fine, lol...

logankstewart said...

Hmm, is it odd that I didn't find the book creepy at all? I mean, sure, John's got a weird obsession, but his internal struggle against it is nice. Though, of course, when you're dealing with serial killers in a realistic setting, I suppose there is a creep factor. The "Wait... What?!" section of this book was pretty much a genre-changer, though, creating a whole new way of thinking for the remainder of the book.

Enjoy the sample, Dave!

Hope S likes the book as much as I did, L!