I’ve been a fan of Chris Bohjalian’s novels ever since I read Transistor Radio. He has chosen to tackle some very difficult real-life issues in his various works, and I’m usually pleased with his approach. So, when I saw The Sleepwalker up for review, I was eager to dive in.
Annalee Ahlberg is the titular sleepwalker. Whenever her husband, Warren, is away from home, she slips from her bed and roams the woods near her Vermont home. Once, her oldest daughter had to coax her off the Gale river bridge, a terrifying experience for both of them. For the past several years, Warren hasn’t traveled for work, and Annalee’s sleepwalking seems to be under control, thanks to treatment she has received at a local sleep center. So, when Warren is asked to attend a poetry conference, he decides to go for it, leaving his daughters Lianna and Paige alone with their mother.
Twenty-one-year-old Lianna is unnerved when her father leaves. Sure, it’s been several years since her mother went out walking in her sleep, but she can’t shake her uneasiness. She even considers sleeping on her father’s side of the bed, since Annalee only sleepwalks when she’s in bed alone, but discards the idea for fear of making her mother feel like an invalid. She spends the night in her own room, with the door open so she’ll hear Annalee if she gets up during the night. Unfortunately, Lianna falls into a deep sleep, and is unaware of her mother’s late night wanderings.
She’s awakened early the next morning by her younger sister. Paige has discovered their mother is missing. Both girls are sure she sleepwalked, but where has she gone? Soon, search parties are scouring the woods in hopes of finding Annalee before it’s too late.
Just as Warren returns early from his conference, Lianna is questioned by Detective Gavin Rikert, an attractive young man who seems to know more than he should about the Ahlberg family. It turns out Gavin is on the case because he has personal experience with sleepwalking. He even knew Annalee personally, since they underwent treatment at the same sleep center. The two struck up a friendship, but Gavin assures Lianna they were never anything more than friends. Lianna is drawn to Gavin, but suspicious of him at the same time. Why is she the only one he’s told about his friendship with Annalee, and were they really just friends?
Annalee’s disappearance changes each of the Ahlbergs. Lianna decides not to go back to college for her senior year and instead, spends the next several months doing her best to keep her family going. She cooks, cleans, shops, and meets Gavin in secret, hoping to learn more about her mother’s disappearance. And Paige begins swimming the Gale river in search of clues, sure she’ll find something the police have missed. Warren seems to be in a sort of fog, going through the motions of work and home life. He starts drinking more than ever before, and Lianna is sure he blames himself for what happened to Annalee.
The story is told in a first-person narrative from Lianna’s point of view. In previous books, Mr. Bohjalian chose to write from the points of view of various characters, and I must admit to missing the different perspectives here. Lianna’s feelings are very obvious, but other characters, such as Gavin, aren’t all that well developed. Gavin is a very complex character, and I really wanted to get into his head in order to understand him first-hand. It’s obvious Gavin cares deeply for Annalee, but what are his feelings for her daughter? True, the suspense is heightened because the reader has to learn things at the same time as Lianna, but I could have done with a little less suspense for the sake of more well-developed characters.
Mr. Bohjalian touches on Warren’s guilt and Paige’s fear, but I felt a little removed from them, since everything is filtered through Lianna’s lens. Although the plot intrigued me, I found myself feeling slightly disconnected from the characters and their story. I definitely wanted to know how things turned out, but I wasn’t as invested as I usually am. I can’t say exactly why this is, but it’s not something I usually experience with Mr. Bohjalian’s books.
At the end of every chapter, there are excerpts from a sort of journal. I suspect they’re meant to offer some insight into sleepwalking, but they were actually quite distracting. I had no idea whose journal they were from, and there was no way of knowing when each entry was written.
I was pretty sure I knew how the story would end, but I’m pleased to say I was completely wrong about almost everything. There’s a great twist that I totally didn’t see coming, and it boosted my enjoyment of the story quite a bit.
The Sleepwalker isn’t my favorite Chris Bohjalian book, but I did enjoy it. It’s obvious he did a lot of research into sleepwalking, and I love the way he describes life in New England. Established fans of the author will most likely be glad they picked this up.