Ill Will by Dan Chaon is a chimera. It shimmers just out of reach like a highway heat mirage, hypnotic, addictive, seductive. Ironically, the same can be said for human memory. How much of what we remember is actually true?
The tale is decidedly post-modern. It is intertextual and follows no rules and respects no boundaries dictated by genre. It is mystery, horror, psychology and more.
Mr Chaon’s literary skills are phenomenal. The prose reads like poetry. He wastes no words. Every pause is filled with action. There is not one single info dump. All the information comes naturally as it would in real life. Even though various characters take turns telling the tale, they are all totally believable and somehow engaging even as they fall prey to obsession and begin to lose touch with reality.
Readers experience this dark tale of obsession through the memories of highly flawed characters. Each has a unique, believable voice, and each struggles to understand the present by unraveling wavering memories of the past. These house-of-mirrors discrepancies pull readers into the text and keep them guessing. Even at the end, many readers will continue to stare at that last page, waiting for more mirages to appear.
The protagonist is Dustin Tillman, a psychologist haunted by garbled memories of abuse and a mass murder that involved his parents. Perhaps in an attempt to come to terms with these childhood memories, he becomes involved in investigating a series of current murders. Tillman appears to have a tenuous hold on reality that makes him vulnerable to manipulation and allows one of his patients to slip into his personal life. This mistake creates an avalanche of disaster that threatens to bury all those he cares for.
Ill Will is very highly recommended and will leave readers questioning the veracity of their own memories. After all, obsession is indeed contagious.
If we are defined by our traitorous memories, then who are we, really?