Ill Will has an amazing dust jacket and a great blurb and premise. Dustin’s adopted brother, who was found guilty as a teenager of murdering their parents and aunt and uncle, is released from prison. Dustin, who gave damning testimony in the trial, has become a psychologist, has recently lost his wife to cancer, and is struggling to parent his two late-teenage sons, one in college and the other about to graduate high school. One of Dustin’s patients, a cop removed from service, brings Dustin into a conspiracy theory about the disappearance of young men across the Midwest whose bodies then show up in rivers or other bodies of water. So begins Dustin’s journey from the mainstream.
Chaon creates a fascinating journey into the guilty grief-stricken mind of his narrator and gives us a perfect example of a narrator we think we can trust (after all, he’s an established psychologist), but whom we slowly begin to doubt and then to fear.
The problem with such a dramatically crafted narrative is that the conclusion is almost destined to disappoint. I finished Ill Will in the middle of the night because I could not stop reading until I knew whether or not I was right to doubt Dustin. I had gone to bed several nights before then terrified of the nightmares I knew were going to visit me thanks to Chaon’s mastery of psychological suspense. On that last night, I stayed awake trying to decide how Chaon could have ended the novel without disappointing me and thinking that I forgave him the disappointment because the journey was so delicious.