An unnerving tale of the unreliability of memory


Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

Dustin is a psychologist who struggles with his own past. His mother, father, aunt and uncle were all killed one summer when he was a young boy.  His adopted brother, Rusty, was arrested for the crime and has spent 30 years in prison but is now being released based on new DNA results.  Dustin had testified against Rusty at his trial telling of a satanic cult ritual.  To complicate things further for Dustin, his wife, Jill, has cancer, his youngest son, Aaron, is becoming a drug addict and his oldest son, Dennis, is drifting away from them all.  Plus Dustin is becoming pulled in more and more by one of his patient’s obsession that there is a link to the drownings of college boys.

This is one of the most unnerving books I’ve read in a long time. The author is very skilled at giving his reader chills.  His use of the different plot lines kept me unsettled and never knowing what to expect.  He gave the main character, Dustin, a quirk of often not finishing his thoughts.  At first I found it distracting but once I got used to it, it made the book seem very realistic and amplified Dustin’s confusion.  He also sometimes would tell his story from different perspectives which he would place into short columns on the page, which I found to be very effective in keeping me glued to these pages.

This is not only an excellent psychological thriller but is also a complex exploration of the unreliability of memory, self-delusion and self-destructive behavior. The sections dealing with Jill’s cancer and Aaron’s drug addiction are very insightful and moving. But don’t expect a neat ending.  The reader is left to figure out some things on their own but I thought it was pretty clear as to what had happened in the past and the present.  This is an above-average thriller that kept me completely engrossed throughout.  This author is now on a list of “must read past books” for me.

Recommended for those who enjoy a complex psychological thriller that will send chills up your spine.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.


4 thoughts on “An unnerving tale of the unreliability of memory

  1. Yes, I like it, too, when an author doesn’t tie everything up neatly at the end but leaves some things up to the readers’ imagination. I think that type of book stays longer with you, too, as far too often, when the end is all neat and tidy, I don’t even remember it a year later.


  2. Yes, I completely understand, Sandra. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through some of the books that I do! It’s like watching a train wreck that you can’t pull your eyes away from. I do tend to be attracted to books on the darker side. I think they make me appreciate the good things in life more.

    Liked by 1 person

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