Book Nook Review: Ill Will Presents Gripping Mysteries

 Dan Chaon’s novel Ill Will follows a conspiracy through an Ohio haunted by insidious police, opioid addictions, and fractured families. Through the hazy eyes of 40-year-old Dustin Tillman, two murder mysteries unfold. One mystery comes from Dustin’s past; the other from his present. It left me chilled.

Dustin is a psychologist, father, widower, and court witness to the savage killings of his parents by his abusive older brother Rusty. Thirty years after Dustin’s testimony, Rusty is exonerated by DNA testing, allowing him to potentially wreak havoc in revenge. Simultaneously, one of Dustin’s patients begins to convince him that a cult is behind the fatal overdoses of supposed binge-drinking frat boys.

After his wife’s recent passing, Dustin floats through life in a dreamy and imaginative state. This perspective comes to bear in the choppy structure of Ill Will, which exhibits half-finished sentences, blank spots, and time jumps. Chaon’s writing urges the reader to question the subjectivity of memory and the reliability of Dustin’s narration, and to wonder whether his testimony against Rusty was fact or fiction.

The disorienting narrative is laced with shifting perspectives and dubious facts, leaving the reader saturated in fake news and psychological uncertainty. Despite the creepy concept and morbid tilt, this book serves as a compelling look at grief, emphasizing that loss can permeate subconscious cognitions and affect all aspects of perception.

This may not be a novel for all. Its melancholy and morbidity can be overwhelming, its environment only a step ahead of American society’s current apocalyptic paranoia. However, I found Ill Will compelling. The sinister mystery left me suspicious of real-world institutions, the mark of a strong thriller. It’s nice to read a book staged in the suburbs of Cleveland, too — even if it doesn’t showcase the charm.