book review

ILL WILL by Dan Chaon


Title: Ill Will

Author: Dan Chaon

Pages: 496

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

My Rating: 4/5

Two sensational unsolved crimes—one in the past, another in the present—are linked by one man’s memory and self-deception in this chilling novel of literary suspense from National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon.

“We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves,” Dustin Tillman likes to say. It’s one of the little mantras he shares with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to symbolize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients gets him deeply engaged in a string of drowning deaths involving drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses talk of a serial killer as paranoid thinking, but as he gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.

From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.


This has to be one of the best written suspense novels that I have ever read. It is so different and unique and I can’t imagine I will ever read another book like this.  Well, this is the first novel I have read by Chaon but I still can’t imagine that he could write something else like this. I found this book at a library book sale and I was so excited because this book has been on my TBR for awhile but also it was an ARC copy.  I couldn’t believe my luck and while I am definitely keeping this copy forever, I also plan on buying a regular copy for my future re read.  I want to read this book at least once a year.  This is the kind of book that every time you read it something new can be found out and more of the story can be flushed out. I will say that I was able to figure out the big twist pretty early on and some of the reveals but it still didn’t diminish the story in any way.

The way this story is told was so brilliant.  I loved the different perspectives and time jumps.  They really added to the suspense of the novel and how the story is told was almost like another character in the story. I’m not really sure if that makes sense but I feel like the story would not have been nearly as good if it had been told in a more traditional way. A common way thrillers are told is through different perspectives and time jumps but this book took that to a whole other level by how each part is written.  Some of the parts have constant chapters every page or two, while other parts have no chapters and is just one long, continuous story.

The great way that Chaon wrote the characters made the book feel more like a character study than a suspense novel. Ill Will is like a literary suspense novel and I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I was more way invested in the characters than I was in the mystery aspect of it.  I loved the ripple effect that the choices that were made in the past have effected the characters in the present and as the story progresses. So much of the story is told in like a hazy way that I found myself wondering if something was actually happening.

This book is the greatest example of unreliable narrators that I have ever read. At the same time, the characters are so flushed out and real that I wanted to believe in them and how they are viewing the world so much. Most of the characters in this novel are unlikable but that also helps makes them feel so real.  They are broken and a lot of what they do makes no sense to me but their choices and actions make sense for them.

The ending of this book leaves so many questions which is something that I’m not really a fan of but for some reason with this book I didn’t even mind it.  I feel like the ending left a lot of little pieces sprinkled throughout and I keep thinking of different theories about how things could have happened.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of literary fiction and people who like novels are more character based than action based.  While I was reading Ill Will, I keep likening it to The Goldfinch in my head. I know that is a random comparison but both have to do with telling stories that span over a person’s life. This book is talks about different people and their stories but the feel of the books are similar to me.  If you have read both I would love to know if you agree with me!



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