Saturday, September 18, 2004

Currently Reading...

Okay, I admit it. I'm a moral prude. I'm also a voracious, eclectic reader, and there have been very few books that have made me morally cringe like Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by first time author Jeff Lindsay.

Despite his propensity for over-alliteration ("...very careful cold coiled creeping creackly cocked and ready..." "...swept, scrubbed, sprayed, cleaned as clean can be", Lindsay's writing flows well and the book is an easy read.

My problem with it is its premise. The main protagonist, the hero of the book, is a Miami cop who works for the police as a blood spatter analyst. He is also a serial killer. And, in his opinion, his kills are permissible, even laudatory, because he kills only bad people.

This is more than a vigilante attitude: Dexter needs to kill, and his need rises until he can't help himself. He takes great care in preparing to kill his selected victim, making sure that everything is ready. He kills with glee, and with self-righteousness. Then, once the deed is done, "I felt a lot better. I always did, after."

What troubles me about this book is that it makes murder acceptable as long as the person who gets it deserves it, and that there is pleasure to be derived in ridding the world of these people. It is a contravention of justice, by one who should uphold it.

Dexter is not an anti-hero, à la Thomas Covenant. He is the good guy, and one who justifies his psychosis with rationalization. Since this book is the beginning of a series, we know that Dexter will go on killing without retribution.

There is a frightening aspect to reading this book, and this is where my moral cringing rises its head: that readers would find amusing, fascinating, normal, the idea of a killer as the good guy.

Chill, you'll tell me. It's only a novel. Maybe, but the written word is powerful, and has a way to influence. It's sneaky that way. I'm not saying people will go out and kill others after reading the book.

All I'm saying is that it's easy --and maybe even natural-- to want bad people (the child killers, the abusers, the murderers) to be eliminated, but this "fighting fire with fire" lowers us to the same level as the bad guys.

That message doesn't come through.

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