I’ve met Dan Wells before when he visited our creative writing class to give a guest lecture. It was a great lecture, he was a very good speaker and had a great sense of humor. I’d have to say that the best part was when he joked about how the people in his writing group didn’t want to be in alone in a room with him ever again after reading his book. After his mother in law read the book for the first time she called his wife and asked her if she felt safe at home with him.
The entire class laughed, because we all knew how ridiculous it was to be afraid of him no matter what he wrote. He’s just that nice of a guy.
Then I read the first chapter of I Am Not A Serial Killer. Well, I read the first half and had to skip to the second chapter. It wasn’t even a very frightening scene, it wasn’t frightening at all. At first I thought the embalming scene, which began about halfway into the first chapter, was incredibly interesting and detailed. Very informative. Then it got a little too detailed, and we actually had to stop the car so I could get out and hurl on the side of the road. Please note that I have a sensitive stomach that has plagued me my entire life. The one good thing that came out of reading this first chapter is that I finally figured out what my specific problem is. I don’t mind so much when I get injured and bleed, or when I see injuries or general gore. Instead what I have is a phobia against the circulatory system, especially when it is being discussed in clinical detail. To say the least, I had flashbacks to high school biology while reading this first chapter.
So, congratulations Mr. Wells, your book made me physically sick. (And you know the funny thing, those of you who aren’t Dan Wells? I’m pretty sure he’d take that as a compliment!)
Still, writing something that makes me physically sick isn’t exactly very hard, nor does it suggest a disturbed, dangerous psyche on the part of the writer. So I still figured, “Okay, that was gross, but I still don’t see how anyone would think he’s dangerous just because he wrote this.”
Then I actually finished the book.
Next time I’m in a room with Dan Wells I’m making sure I remove all clocks from the room.
I Am Not A Serial Killer revolves around John Wayne Cleaver, a fifteen year old boy suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder, or, as he puts it in his own words, Sociopathy. He lives with his mother who runs a mortuary, and spends a great deal of his time around corpses. You’d think that with his apathetic views, and bizarre obsessions he wouldn’t make a good protagonist. You would be wrong. John may think destiny wants him to become a Serial Killer, and usually that would be pretty creepy, but he himself does not want to become one. With a clear personal goal like that it is very easy for us as readers to root for him.
The main plot revolves around the Clayton Killer, a serial killer who brutally tears his victims apart, and steals a piece of the body. A friend of mine, Alex, pointed this out, and he said this before I’d read the book (he was reading my copy, I loaned it out before even reading it myself), but once reading it I realized how right he was. With a stipulation. I don’t mind that we find out fairly early who the killer is, what bugged me while reading was that his supernatural nature was revealed in an offhand comment in the narrative before we even knew who he was. I love the book, and this flaw doesn’t really detract from it, but I do think this was it’s biggest flaw. And since it’s only one major flaw, that’s pretty good.
Like Nathan already said, the prose really is beautiful, and for a break through novel it is practically phenomenal. I’m not a huge fan of the first person narrative, but it seems to be gaining in popularity. In Dan Wells’ case he uses it masterfully. There is so much we learn about John that we wouldn’t have been able to if we were outside his head. Hearing everything from his point of view, his struggle against the monster inside him, makes for a much, much more chilling read.
This book doesn’t really fall into any specific category, as Dan himself has said, but overall I’d say it’s appropriate for older teenagers. Keep in mind, it is a horror novel, so if you don’t like horror, obviously don’t read it. Though, it is different from most horror novels I’ve read, where the monster isn’t the thing scaring you, it’s the protagonist who gives me the chills.
If you liked my review, buy the book here: I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver)