Video: Book Review: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Watch this review of Ill Will and other bookish videos on my YouTube/Booktube channel.

I tried, oh how I tried, to make this review spoiler-free. But Ill Will is just one of those books in which discussing any part of it gives away key plot points.

You really shouldn’t go into it with a head full of its contents. Let yourself be surprised.

So you’ve been warned – I’ll try not to give it all away, but there may be spoilers here.

Many years ago, when he was a child, Dustin’s parents were murdered.

Now as an adult Dustin is married, works as a psychologist, and has two boys. One of his patients is an ex-cop, obsessed with a string of present-day murders occurring in the area.

Dustin seems to have put together a relatively successful adulthood, but there are a couple of serious things working against him.

  • He’s unreliable.
    In flashbacks, we see that Dustin was highly suggestible. He was fed stories that he elaborated on and believed to be true.
  • He’s come undone.
    Once his wife dies (See? Key plot point I just spoiled right there), he becomes somewhat unmoored. He used to discuss patients with her, but now he can’t and loses valuable perspective. He’s so blind to his boys that he doesn’t even know that one has dropped out of college and both are addicted to drugs. Dustin’s tidy life is suddenly unstable.

Some aspects of Ill Will may turn people off:

  • It goes dark. Very very dark. Satanism, brutal deaths, heroin use; it’s all here.
  • One of the murders is never solved. Introducing a big mystery and letting it exist in the ether without resolution seems to be a trend in literature lately (recent examples: Universal Harvester, Idaho). This is very frustrating to me. It’s not as frustrating in this book, but there’s no satisfying wrap-up.
  • It’s unstructured. The story flips between time periods with frequent flashes back and forward, often cutting off mid-sentence, never landing in the linear place it left off. If you need a book that follows the rules of conventional grammar and structure, this will not be the book for you.

Here are some things to like about this book:

  • It goes dark. Very very dark. Dan Chaon doesn’t sugar coat the events and doesn’t force a happy ending.
  • The characters are multi-layered, especially Dustin. It would have been nice to see more of his sons than them at their very worst, but I could see the many (MANY) flaws Dustin has without hating his character or wishing him, well, ill will.

Give it a read and let me know what you think. If you have a dark, dark soul like mine, I think you’ll enjoy it.