My poor friends and coworkers – I’ve been making them a little uneasy. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; when previously normal, sane girls start to babble about how much they love books about Jeffrey Dahmer and serial killer clones, people tend to become alarmed.
As crazy it makes me seem, though, I can’t stop singing the praises of Project CAIN to anyone who will listen. I’ve never read anything like it before, and everything about this book, from the spectacular cover to the unique premise, captivated me.
Girard’s book is just as spellbinding as it is creepy, and that’s saying a lot. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the idea of a seemingly average teenager finding out that he’s not only capable of horrific violence, but predisposed to it. Imagine what such a revelation would do to your personal identity, how it would turn your world upside down. It’s the true question of nature versus nurture: can Jeff be his own man, or will he succumb to the pull of his DNA and become a monster, just like his genetic donor?
It’s a very peculiar experience to read a book where you’re scared of the narrator, as I was in Project CAIN. Although I sympathized with Jeff, pitying him for the shame, guilt, and self-loathing he feels, I couldn’t help but be wary of him. Knowing what his genetic donor had done and what Jeff himself was therefore likely to do made me want to keep my distance. I was nervous, waiting for Jeff to snap, like he was a ticking time bomb just waiting to be set off.
I’ve read all sorts of books about tortured young men trying to fight the monster within, but I’ve never been skittish around any of them until now. I think the difference in Project CAIN is the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer was a real person. We’re not talking about brooding werewolves or romanticized vampires but about a twisted serial killer who actually existed, murdering people in my own lifetime. Also, even though scientists have not yet succeeded in cloning human beings in the real world, it’s not inconceivable that such a thing could one day take place. We’ve already proven that it’s possible to clone sheep, dogs, and other animals, so what’s to say we won’t figure out how to do the same with people at some point? It’s a chilling thought, and if you have even the most basic idea of who Dahmer was, the thought of cloning him is enough to give you goosebumps.
As if the inherent creepiness of a book about young serial killers doesn’t provide enough tension, Jeff has a way of narrating that lends a very fatalistic, dire feel to the story. He frequently makes shocking, horrifying pronouncements, made all the more terrible by his matter-of-fact method of stating them. He is also prone to foreshadowing, giving you the sense that you’re being set up for something of grave consequence: “I suspected and feared even then that the rotting corpse was only the beginning. And that my father was involved in much, much worse things than that.” And, “Eventually, the guy with the gun found me. I suppose it was only a matter of time.”
Although I’m a huge wimp when it comes to scary stuff, I can’t deny a fascination with the macabre, which Project CAIN certainly satisfies. I was both appalled and transfixed by this story, specifically the psychological struggle that Jeff goes through after he discovers that he is a clone. There was no shortage of fodder for my greedy imagination, and I remained entranced for the entirety of the novel.
That’s not to say this book is perfect. The plot gets busy and convoluted at times, with the numerous players, government conspiracies, genetic corporations, etc. I was never entirely clear on who was hunting whom, or why. All of this overshadowed what, to me, was the more compelling aspect of the story: the question of what makes someone a monster and how much that someone’s choices factor in.
Halfway through the book, when the conspiracy theories and other craziness started to take away from the believability and dissipate the horror, I finally found the courage to Google Jeffrey Dahmer (I’d known he was a murderer, but that was it; I wasn’t aware of any specifics). I spent half an hour looking at pictures of him and reading about the things he did to each of his victims. This promptly brought the horror back to the book. I’d been wary of Jeff’s character from the beginning but hadn’t really understood precisely what his genetic donor had been responsible for. Reading about the real Jeff Dahmer’s crimes made me look at fictional Jeff in a whole new way. He was no longer the boy who was cloned from someone who, in my head, I had seen as simply a “bad man” in a vague sense of the term. Instead, he was the boy who was genetically predisposed to drugging, raping, torturing, dissecting, and even eating young boys and men. Ick…and then ick some more.
So yes, this book is will give you the heebie jeebies, and yes, it will make it hard to sleep at night. But it’s worth it. And it’s even worth the weird stares you’ll get when you can’t help but tell everyone you meet that you’re reading this really great book about serial killer clones. Trust me on this.