Ill Will by Dan Chaon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Dustin Tillman is a psychologist in Ohio; he's married with two sons and rarely even thinks about the horrific incident of his childhood, when his adopted brother, Rusty, murdered Dustin's parents and his aunt and uncle. Dustin was just a child then, and his brother was arrested largely on the testimony of Dustin and his cousin Kate and the 1980s' fears over satanism. But now Dustin learns that Rusty is being released from prison; his appeal has been granted, and his verdict overturned based on DNA evidence. Meanwhile, Dustin is struggling with one of his patients, Aqil, a former police officer who believes there is a link among a group of drunken college boys who have died by drowning. As more and more things start going wrong in Dustin's life, he gets drawn into Aqil's paranoia-- and he threatens to bring down his family with him.
This book had an interesting premise: linking two sets of crimes in the past and present, but I felt like that premise was a little forced/falsified, and I never got into the book, or the characters. As a reader, you'll probably find the way it's written either brilliant or incredibly irritating, and I fell squarely into the irritating camp. There are very abrupt chapter switches between the present and the past that are quite annoying, making it difficult to tell exactly where you are in time. The changes in point of view aren't as bad, allowing you to hear from Dustin, his son, and others, but it still gets confusing quickly. (Sidebar: doesn't anyone just tell a linear story from one person's point of view anymore?)
Even more, the story is written quite like the characters think--which is fine in theory--for instance, this includes Dustin's tendency to just stop mid-sentence, something his family teases him about. After a bit you get somewhat used to the random sentences that end mid-thought, or the weird white spaces, but it's still strange. Other parts are the story are split into two or three parts on a page and told almost in parallel, causing you to flip back and forth to read each set. I never was quite sure of the point of that. Yes, people in the novel are going crazy and on drugs. I could get that concept and not have to flip back and forth constantly to read chunks of the story. It's one of those storytelling devices that, to me, could be amazing, but just winds up driving you slightly insane.
This novel is also very dark. Again, that's fine. I just finished The Roanoke Girls, which was incredibly dark, and loved it. But this one: I just didn't find it that interesting. I found myself finishing it more out of a vague curiosity and duty than anything else. I figured out one of the main plot points pretty on and wasn't engaged with any of the characters. Then, after all of this, the ending is awful and vague, and there's no resolution, and I found myself just throwing the whole thing down in disgust. Definitely not one of my favorites. I can see the potential for others, but it wasn't for me.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you) in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 03/07/2017.
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