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Ill Will: A Novel Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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“In his haunting, strikingly original new novel, [Dan] Chaon takes formidable risks, dismantling his timeline like a film editor and building the narrative with short, urgent chapters told from a few key perspectives. . . . As the story spins toward its inexorable conclusion, only the reader ascertains what is happening—a sinking realization that rattles the psyche and interferes with sleep. I read the concluding sections with increasing horror; the ending, twisting in the author’s assured hands like a Rubik’s Cube, is at once predictable and harrowing. Somehow, it resolved nothing and left me shaken. I believed this could happen—I believed all of it—and the only thing more terrifying than that is the possibility of another Dan Chaon novel. I will be nervously looking forward to it.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The scariest novel of the year . . . ingenious . . . By now we should all be on guard against Dan Chaon, but there’s just no effective defense against this cunning writer. The author of three novels and three collections of short stories, he draws on our sympathies even while pricking our anxieties. Before beginning his exceptionally unnerving new book, go ahead and lock the door, but it won’t help. You’ll still be stuck inside yourself, which for Chaon is the most precarious place to be. . . . There’s something irresistibly creepy about this story, which stems from the thrill of venturing into illicit places of the mind. . . . Chaon’s novel walks along a garrote stretched taut between Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock. By the time we realize what’s happening, we’ve gone too far to turn back. We can only inch forward into the darkness, bracing for what might come next.”—The Washington Post
“Powerful . . . Chaon is one of America’s best and most dependable writers, and in the end, Ill Will is a ruthlessly ‘realistic’ piece of fiction about the unrealistic beliefs people entertain about their world.”—Los Angeles Times
“Spanning more than thirty years, this intriguing novel about a tightly wired criminal psychologist with a murky past has the tension of a thriller plus the emotional release of justice finally served.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Powerfully unsettling . . . A ranking master among neo-pulp stylists, Chaon adds to the book’s disorienting effects by playing with the physical text. Some chapters take the form of parallel columns, two or three to a page. White spaces and uneven alignments push words, sentences—and thoughts—apart. . . . While such touches underscore the author’s playful approach, the writerly stagecraft keeps the reader off guard and sometimes on edge, in a kind of altered cognitive state. There’s a lot going on under the surface of Ill Will—more than one reading will reveal. Going back and reading this oddly compelling book again will only provide more pleasure.”—Chicago Tribune
“Terrifically eerie . . . The thriller transcends its genre to become a fascinating study in generational trauma. . . . Too few writers prize atmosphere as much as narrative tautness. With Ill Will, Chaon succeeds at delivering both.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Outstanding . . . Following writers like Richard Matheson and Shirley Jackson, Dan Chaon writes in the spooky tradition of suburban gothic. . . . An unreliable narrator can often feel like a cheap trick in the novelist’s playbook, but Mr. Chaon employs it masterfully, integrating unreliability into the book’s very typography. . . . Mr. Chaon’s writing is cool and precise, but his story is thrillingly unstable. It also boasts, at the end, a traditional horror-novel payoff I didn’t see coming—Stephen King couldn’t have done it better.”—The Wall Street Journal
“One of the best thrillers I’ve encountered in a very, very long time, Dan Chaon’s latest novel will chill you to the bone and keep you guessing at every turn.”—Newsweek
“If you’re up for being caught in a seamy heartland underbelly of fear, superstition, and paranoia, with side excursions through urban legend and recovered-memory hysteria, Ill Will is your book. . . . Chaon’s powers of description are impressive. . . . His knack for leaving sentences tellingly unfinished and thoughts menacingly incomplete . . . is perfect.”—The Boston Globe
“Reading a truly terrifying novel can make you feel like you’re drowning: As much as you may want to surface and catch your breath, the plot holds you in its grip. . . . As Chaon moves nimbly between viewpoints, calling memories and relationships into question, a powerful undercurrent of dread begins to form beneath the story, slowly but inexorably pulling you under.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Imagine the shower scene in Psycho, extended across eleven sections and three decades, with multiple unsolved mysteries. That’s the level of intensity Chaon achieves in this dark, provocative thriller.”—BBC
“Chaon faithfully carries out his responsibility to keep the mystery plots . . . simmering in a pressure cooker of suspense and emotion. While doing so, he manages to summon the atmospheres of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.”—Shelf Awareness
“In Chaon’s capable hands, [Ill Will] is a brilliant depiction of mental illness. Not a pretty picture, but masterfully painted.”—BookPage
“Intensely readable . . . In this creepy yet fascinating work, with a bleak Ohio wintery landscape as backdrop, Chaon creates a world of tragedy, disease, and drug abuse right out of today’s news and makes it real while keeping readers guessing on many levels.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Chaon has created another of those twilight realms of which he is an indisputable master. The book’s characters plumb the depths of deception and surpass all established measures of instability and dysfunction. . . . If the definition of eeriness is indeed ‘strange, suspicious, and unnatural,’ the definers of the genre (Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, etc.) have a worthy heir in Dan Chaon.”—Booklist
“Exceptional and emotionally wrenching . . . With impressive skill, across multiple narratives that twine, fracture, and reset, Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A dark genre-bending thriller . . . Chaon has mastered multiple psychologically complex and often fearsome characters. A shadowy narrative that’s carried well by the author's command and insight.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Dan Chaon’s new novel is subtly, steadily unnerving—like a scalpel slipping under your skin and prying it, ever so slowly, from the muscle beneath. Ill Will is a dark Möbius strip of a thriller that will leave you questioning what’s perceived and what’s imagined, and whether the reverberations of tragedy ever truly come to an end.”—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You
“Ill Will not only confirms Chaon as among our country’s finest writers but makes clear that he is one of our bravest and most inventive. He embraces risks that would have most novelists turning pale and making the sign of the cross. It’s stunning. Read it right now.”—Peter Straub, author of The Throat
“Dan Chaon’s darkly stunning Ill Will ensnares you from its very first pages. It’s both a bone-chilling literary thriller and a complicated tale of family secrets and the strange and dangerous paths grief and guilt can take us on—and it is not to be missed.”—Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me
“‘I believe in bad places,’ one narrator of Ill Will confesses, and he’s right. Dan Chaon’s damaged characters stalk the elusive truth and what may be a serial killer through a nightmarish Cleveland populated by drug addicts and sexual predators. Intimate and unsparing, this is one of the creepiest books I've ever read.”—Stewart O’Nan, author of Songs for the Missing
“Ill Will is a literary masterwork, and that rare, true psychological thriller that comes along once in a decade. This novel may be the most honest exploration of deceit ever written.”—Alissa Nutting, author of Tampa
“This novel is brilliant, beautiful, and terrifying. Dan Chaon has written a tender, masterful family story and injected it with a cardiac arrest of a plot. Ill Will keeps you up late into the night, swelling your heart and turning your blood to ice.”—Lily King, New York Times bestselling author of Euphoria
About the Author
Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications; Await Your Reply, which was a New York Times Notable Book and appeared on more than a dozen best-of-the-year lists; and Stay Awake. Chaon has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and he was the recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.
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We’ve all experienced memory’s vagaries: the sense that we’re not 100% sure we remember a childhood event more because we were there or from oft-repeated family stories and photos. You’re laughing with friends about a shared experience and they “can’t believe you don’t remember!” something or someone who was there. Once in awhile we bump into some cognitive dissonance; at Uncle Buck’s funeral when your sister calls him the kindest man she ever knew and you’re remembering the man who teased and deliberately frightened you, but it’s usually pretty benign. It all becomes part of our individual fabric, threads in the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.
But what if your family stories include murder? What if your siblings insist you must remember stories of abuse? What if your trusted therapist demands you “recover” your “lost” memories of your parents’ satanic rituals? How does this affect your story, the person you re-create each day with your inner narration?
Dustin and his cousin, Kate, clearly remember the night both sets of parents were killed, and their testimony sends Dustin’s adoptive brother, Russell, to prison for the murder. Memories of Russell’s satanic practices haunt Dustin’s life, even affecting his choice of profession. How is it possible that 30 years later, Russell is deemed innocent and released? Why does Kate’s closely bonded twin, Wave, abruptly cut her and the rest of the family out of her life after the trial, with no explanation or communication?
Meanwhile, Dustin’s psychotherapy patient, Aqil, a former police officer, has uncovered a connection among a number of accidental drownings, strong enough that he becomes convinced they were not accidents at all. While Dustin tries to maintain a therapeutic patient-doctor relationship, Aqil tries harder and harder to talk him into helping to investigate what he is sure is a breakthrough discovery in the deaths.
I expected a book from an author with Dan Chaon’s impressive list of awards and nominations to be well written, and it absolutely is. There are a few points where one can see the writer posturing a bit, but they do work in terms of the story, and the language and writing overall are outstanding.
I had a very hard time putting this book down. It made me late for bed. It made me late for work. It made me skip chores I really should have done. I finished it three or four days ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since, mulling it over and discovering more and more to think about. It’s not an uplifting book. It’s not a tidy book. But it’s a heck of a ride and will reward your reading efforts many times over.
I turned to reviews to figure out just what I missed. Every review I read by known critics, got some more of the story wrong. Did they read the book?
I don't know. Or maybe the details confused them as much as they did me. Help!!! I want to hear from people who have read this. Please tell me what you thought of the book.
And a note to critics Gillette is in Wyoming close to Yellowstone. It is not in Nebraska. So people read it, and tell me what you think. I will say that Chaon has a very clever mind. So give this book a chance.
At the same time Rusty is released, teen jocks are turning up dead in rivers after getting drunk in bars. The police find the deaths to be the likely result of binge drinking. One of Dustin’s patients, Aqil, theorizes that a Satanic cult serial killer is on the loose and enlists Dustin’s help. Aquil, a former cop, specifically chooses Dustin to help find the killer under the guise of needing smoking cessation therapy. Aqil feels Dustin will understand cult killings since Rusty was imprisoned based on testimony from Dustin and his cousin that Rusty was into Satanic cult rituals.
So who's killing the jocks? And who killed Dustin's family? Chaon keeps us off center.
Dustin has always been gullible and a little off, both as a child and as an adult. His sons find him distracted to the point they think something is “wrong with his brain.” He has a habit of not finishing his sentences. He tries to find meaning in unrelated events. So he begins repeating as a mantra something his wife told him: “Sometimes a dead bird is just a dead bird.” He says:
“We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves…But we can control those stories…Events in our life have meaning because we choose to give it to them.”
It’s unclear just what Dustin thinks his reality is but it’s certainly fractured. The story he tells himself about himself differs from what others tell themselves about him.
Dustin is at once gullible, crazy, and scary. I found him to be shockingly innocent, a thoughtless liar, a clueless father, and a tragic human being.
Chaon’s unique writing style of stopping midsentence without punctuation adds to the novel’s suspense. He kept me hanging on until the very end, and I was surprised. Well done.
Most recent customer reviews
We get the joke, Mr. Chaon. The worst “ill will” here is what most readers feel after finishing this well-written,...Read more