cover image Ill Will

Ill Will

Dan Chaon. Ballantine, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-0-345-47604-3

For this exceptional and emotionally wrenching novel, Chaon (Await Your Reply) plants the seeds of new manias into the hard, unforgiving ground that will be familiar to his readers. In 1983, when psychologist Dustin Tillman was 13, his mother, father, aunt, and uncle were murdered. Dustin accused his adopted older brother, Rusty, a sadistic kid attracted to Satanism, of the crime, and Rusty was incarcerated. The murders shaped Dustin’s life as much as they did Rusty’s; his Ph.D. dissertation was on Satanic ritual abuse, and he practices hypnotherapy despite its detractors. Now in his early 40s, he’s an ineffectual father of two boys and an oblivious husband to a dying wife in suburban Ohio. Having convinced himself of his vision of the past and clinging only to “memories of happiness,” he’s unnerved to learn that Rusty has been exonerated and released. What he doesn’t know is that Rusty has reached out to Dustin’s youngest, Aaron, a teenage junky sliding into Cleveland’s dangerous underground, urging the boy to talk to Wave, Dustin’s estranged cousin, who may know the truth of the murders. The paths of several characters converge as one of Dustin’s patients convinces him to investigate a spate of drownings and Aaron’s best friend Rabbit is pulled from the river, dead. With impressive skill, across multiple narratives that twine, fracture, and reset, Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread. (Mar.)