This post will be talking about plot twists and reveals for the book I’m reviewing, and therefore the first season of the show inspired on it. The book is Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, and the show, of course, is Dexter.
I was giving the book by a co-worker, after it came up in conversation (I’m not sure how) and I mentioned an interest in reading things written from an atypical psychology angle. Since the book is from the perspective of an ethical serial killer, it obviously fit the bill. I had already watched the first season of Dexter — when something is THAT popular, I usually feel obligated to check out at least a little bit of it — but had stopped there because I hadn’t felt a need to continue. So I already knew what the twist would be at the end of the book. Still, books aren’t TV shows, and I decided to give it a try anyway.
For anyone who doesn’t know the basic premise, Dexter can’t remember ever feeling emotions or connections to people, and feels a compulsion to kill. He was adopted as a small child and raised by a policeman, who recognized the signs for this antisocial behavior early on. His adopted father decided to train Dexter to channel his impulses so that he only hunts other killers, never anyone innocent, and taught him how to be meticulous so he never gets caught, and how to blend in with other people so they never suspect what he’s like inside. As an adult, Dexter works as a tech for the Miami police. The plot kicks off with the investigation of another serial killer on the loose, one whose murders fascinate Dexter and cause conflict between his impulses and his code of ethics.
The narration style of the book is Causal First Person, almost like Dexter is inviting you into a conversation in his head, and it’s full of dark sarcastic self-deprecating humor. This all makes it a deceptively easy read, so you almost don’t realize just how twisted and disturbing our antihero truly is. It’s a clever and compelling method, one that seems to have been quite successful, but one that — for me, in this case — seemed to have kept things a little shallow. It was so busy being clever and quippy that the physiologic and depth became background, the building blocks but not the meat. I still enjoyed it, but I wasn’t feeling like I got a lot out of it. That’s perfectly okay sometimes, of course, but other times you want the other thing. It’s good to know which you’re getting.
That said, there was a moment near the end of the book which caught my attention and made me wish I hadn’t seem the TV first. The big reveal and twist is that the other serial killer is actually Dexter’s biological brother Brian, who is a year older and remembers the brutal murder of their mother that they witnessed as small children, which set them both on the path of emotionally void killers. But right before this reveal, the book builds up the connection Dexter feels to the strange murder scenes more and more, to the point where Dexter begins wondering if he himself is somehow committing them when he thinks he’s sleeping. At some point — probably later than would otherwise have been if I hadn’t had the TV show in mind while reading — I figured something out that made the whole thing much more interesting to the literary geek side of me: this was a modern retelling of Jekyll and Hyde.
Yes, there are different details between Dexter and Jekyll, not the least of which is that Brian isn’t physically the same person as Dexter like Hyde is to Jekyll. Unlike Jekyll, Dexter is also a killer — but he’s a killer with a strong code of ethics which the other self is tempting him to shatter and abandon. The struggle Dexter has between what he’s been taught and what he feels compelled to do, and the doubts and uncertainty he faces before and even after the reveal, are very much an echo of the struggles Jekyll faces in his own story.
As for the story being a metaphor/commentary on society and morals, the role is nicely filled by the fact Dexter is constantly and conscientiously observing his own emotionless and moral-less reactions, and mimicking the behaviors and ethics he’s learned from others. Brian, having never been taught those things, becomes the unshackled Hyde, the darker shadow whose existence forces conflict, shatters carefully built control and illusions, and destroys relationships and lives, by fully embracing the impulses society demands be suppressed.
I don’t know how much of these parallels are on purpose. Perhaps the author deliberately set out to write a modern take on Jekyll and Hyde, and possibly he just didn’t bother telling anyone. It might all be an accident, one of those things which come about when writers stumble upon archetypes. It doesn’t particularly matter to me how it happened; the important thing is that it exists. Remember the depth I was looking for earlier? THAT is where I found it.
Happy reading, and Happy 2015!