Saturday, March 11, 2017

Il Will

Ill Will is a new mystery by Dan Chaon.  Actually, it's less a mystery and more a story about memory and a weird time in American history.  In the mid-1980s, a moral panic surged across the US that Satanic rituals were occurring regularly in small communities - most of the stories involved children being killed or drinking their blood and/or sexual abuses.  I remember, as a child myself at that time, thinking that if the amount of alleged abuse were actually happening, someone I knew would surely be affected, and I didn't know of anyone.  Simultaneously, I also wondered if I had repressed memories, and beloved family friends actually put on hoods at night and sought to kidnap me and cut out my liver for a backyard bonfire.  So, thanks, Chaon, for taking me back so completely to this bizarre time in my childhood when religious nuts in my small Christian community spent a lot of time freaking out kids with hand-wringing about a bunch of nonsense.

Ill Will's main character, Dustin, a psychologist whose career launched (and quickly sunk) in the study of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" was seemingly a victim of the phenomenon himself.  His parents and aunt and Uncle when killed when he was a child and his adopted brother, Rusty, was jailed for the murder.  Dustin testistfied at the trial that Rusty was involved in Satanic rituals.  Dustin later marries and has several children who don't know about his past, but when a friend of his son goes missing, Dustin sort of gets involved in trying to figure out what happened.  Meanwhile, Rusty's been released from prison and has contacted one of his nephews.  Rusty seems to be a well-meaning man, lonely and good intentioned, however ill-equipped he may be to deal with life and human interactions in any  responsible way, having spent most of his life in jail.

For me what was lacking was a woman's voice - there were a few short bits with Dustin's female cousins whose parents were killed as well - they were the characters I was most interested in.

To tell the truth, I found the end of Ill Will very unsatisfying.  Things wrap up in a quick and sort of disassociated way.  I did enjoy the analysis of memory and memory recovery, as well as the sort of clinical view of this out of control urban legend that so many people believed in.

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