Family, Mystery/Thriller

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

This novel has been showing up everywhere. I’ve been getting so many recommendations to read it and every time I pass my local bookstore, it’s the first book I see on display. It felt like a sign that I should probably read it. So I did. And here is my review:

Dustin is a psychologist working in Cleveland, drifting through life in his forties, when he hears that his adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. 30 years ago, Rusty was charged with the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. In the midst of the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults, the outlandish accusations of Dustin and his cousin was enough to land Rusty a life sentence. Now, DNA analysis has overturned the conviction… and Dustin is bracing himself for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients becomes obsessed over a string of drownings involving drunk college boys. His patient is insistent that these deaths are the work of a serial killer, which Dustin dismisses as paranoid thinking at first. But as he indulges in his patient’s obsession, Dustin gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation and starts to believe in the evidence. Soon, he finds himself pulled into this case, crossing all boundaries … and putting his own family at risk.

I’m trying to think of where I want to start with this novel. My thoughts are all over the place and even hours after reading, I’m still feeling confused about this novel.

This story is broken up into several different time points, and is told from multiple perspectives. While at first I was intrigued and enthusiastic about these separate passages, it started to become weary and dragged down the story. There were chapters that rambled on and that didn’t really add anything to the story, and it made me want to stop reading. I also didn’t like that the author would suddenly decide to change up the writing style. There were pages and chapters that didn’t end with complete sentences, there were chapters that would be in column format, requiring you to flip the page continuously in order to get information that really could have just been written normally. I think what bothered me the most about this book is that the 2 separate storylines were both very interesting, but the author failed to keep me interested in both of them. Maybe it was the jerky transitions, maybe it was because of the overall writing style, maybe it was because I hated almost every character that was introduced. But it took a long time to get to any sort of conclusion of either storyline. The truth about the massacre was a sad one … but it was delivered poorly. Why couldn’t the ending have been drawn out more, why couldn’t it have shown the research and the searching that went into the final discovery of the truth? I wish the author had focused on that more than some of the other aspects of the story. In terms of the other story, the one regarding the drunk college boys, it felt weird. In the beginning, based on the premise, I thought Dustin would develop some kind of obsession about the crimes. Instead, he is just unable to say no to his patient and follows along like a lost puppy. It fit with his character, but it didn’t make for a very compelling read. The ending of that was quite shocking, but it was ambiguous, and I don’t really like to be left with questions when I finish a book.

So after all of that rambling, I’m going to conclude by saying that this novel had a lot of potential what with the combination of 2 intriguing plot lines. However, the execution failed for me and I was unable to love this novel because of the writing style, the jerky transitions between time points and perspectives, the lack of focus on certain areas and  the overdrawn details on other things, and just the characters themselves.

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