Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Donald Davenport
Length: 7 hours, 10 minutes
It’s hot. It’s so hot in Emory’s apartment. The smell of food and garbage rotting in the summer heat fills the apartment building like a miasma, the fetid smells of sweat, piss and shit, and disease waft from his mother’s room where she lies, rotting as she’s eaten alive by AIDS. And it’s so damned hot. It’s 1991 and Emory, overtaken by the crushing weight of life, the looming death of his mother, the growing distance between himself and his sister, the tedium of his job, worn to a shadow by a life he never wanted, sees something in the smile of the man on the newspaper.
On July 22nd, 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested and the world watches in horrified fascination as his terrible crimes are splashed across every paper, taking up hours of prime time television news. Where others see a monster, Emory sees a kindred spirit. It’s more of an impulse than a thought that has Emory sitting down to write to Dahmer, to tell him that he understands him. Not that he’s condoning what Dahmer did, of course not. But … he sees the man behind the monster, and hopes that, maybe, Dahmer can see him back.
Tyler Kay finds his way into Emory’s life by surprise. Tyler is a new hire at the insurance agency and seems to have taken a liking to Emory. He invites him for a drink, and takes him to a nearby bar. A gay bar. But … Emory isn’t gay. (He isn’t. He isn’t!) Tyler, though, is, and is quick to let Emory know that he just wanted somewhere close; he wasn’t implying anything. Not that he wouldn’t be disinclined to be friendlier, if that’s what Emory wanted.
The two men begin a slow, cautious friendship. They share dinners and watch horror movies from Blockbuster. Tyler is there — the only one there — when Emory’s mother dies, when his sister leaves. Tyler is there … and Dahmer, through his letters, is there, too. He’s Emory’s friend, his best friend. Because Dahmer understands him in a way no one else ever could.
Emory is not a sympathetic person, but he’s a sympathetic character, and even when the point of view switches to Tyler or Emory’s sister, it’s still very much Emory’s book. He slowly dissolves from normal into something so strangely broken. I would classify this more as a psychological horror than a traditional thriller or horror story, because I could almost feel how and why all the pieces fell as they did. What I was most impressed by — both from the author and the narrator — was how the setting itself, the heat and the smell and the claustrophobia of the apartment became almost its own character. It’s very effective and, in parts, very unsettling.
The audiobook, narrated by Donald Davenport, is amazing. While the voices aren’t always distinct, he somehow manages to take Emory’s slightly detached and emotionally distant relationship with Tyler and give it depth and humanity. Emory isn’t lonely, sitting in his apartment by himself. Instead, he’s shut down, like a television that’s turned off or a book that’s been closed. He’s just not there when he’s alone. When Tyler visits, there’s an effort as Emory pushes himself to be present, and it adds layers — creepy layers — but layers.
However, that said, there were some technical issues with the audio format. Around 2 hours in, I started getting patches of fuzz and distortion that would last anywhere from a second to five seconds. I tend to listen to my audiobooks at 1.5x speed, and noticed that the distortion was worse than if I listened at normal speed. I am not clear if this issue was specific to my copy or to all versions of the audiobook.
My thoughts on the ending are behind a spoiler:
All of that said, the audio book is absolutely worth your time.