I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s a good overview of the case and conveys some of its complexity. It lays out Dahmer’s childhood and mental state well, and the narrative is clear without feeling overly voyeuristic. On the other hand, I disagreed with a lot of the author’s opinions and felt that his reliance on a Freudian model was a huge failing in the book. His main conclusion is that the hernia operation Dahmer had when he was four led to a castration fear and thus a desire for control that then led to murder. I don’t tend to agree with that sort of pat explanation, and I don’t align with Freudian theories on most levels, so that made me disagree with most of the author’s ideas as well. Masters also says that people who like oral sex “above other sexual experiences indicates an infantile need for nourishment, a wish to recreate the moment of being mothered” which I think is a stupid conclusion that’s based in layers of weird homophobia and sexism. On that note, he appeared to dislike gay people and be disdainful of casual sex in a way that was distracting from the main thesis of the book. In one particularly angering passage about gay bathhouses, he writes:
” It is the function of such a place to encourage casual sex for its own sake, and the bathhouses are therefore lamentable breeding-grounds for selfishness, just as brothels encourage the insensitive trait in heterosexual men. Visited but seldom, they can serve a purpose; frequented at the expense of all other sexual activity, they must damage the soul.”
There is so much wrong to unpack there that it would probably make this review too long, but sufficed to say that I very deeply disagree with this and think it clearly points to his homophobia. As much as he seems to be trying to disguise it by papering over it in polite language, equating a bathhouse to a brothel and then saying they damage the soul is just ridiculous. He suggests later that maybe Dahmer wasn’t gay at all, which is just the cherry on top of his dumb opinions.
Also, he talked a lot about “momentary possession” and how striking it is that seemingly nice people can also be serial killers. I don’t think it’s striking for a smart serial killer to be able to hide their desire to kill until the right moment — it’s a protective camouflage and makes a horrible sense. To claim that it’s some sort of transient possession is to be dangerously naive and blind to the capacity for calculated evil, which lets serial killers continue to kill for so long. Dahmer doesn’t really fall under what I would even consider to be a possession rubric, because he completely spiraled out of control and did a horrible job at hiding his crimes. And then Masters lumping Ed Gein into the category of “momentary possession” because he was a kind babysitter makes absolutely no sense! His preferred victims were women, not children, so he was never really a danger to children, and he similarly was able to carefully segment his crimes away from his front-facing life for a long time before he messed up.
Anyway, I could write a paragraph per indignant note I left in the margins of my copy, but basically I disagreed throughout and found many of Master’s conclusions to be wrong. But I did find parts I liked, and the overall book was an interesting and thought-provoking read. Recommended to people prepared to mentally argue with the author.
Warnings for: horrible necrophiliac murders, cannibalism, rape, assault, descriptions of other similar serial killers’ crimes