The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

30268064Fiction — audiobook. Read by Cady McClain and Grace Experience. Random House Audio, 2017. 9 hours, 38 minutes. Library copy. 

When Lianna Ahlberg awakens one morning at her parents’ home in Vermont and realizes her mother, Annalee, is missing, she immediately feels the worst because Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction causes her to wander out of the house and into dangerous situations. Once, Annalee sleepwalked right on to the ledge of the bridge over Gale River, requiring Lianna to pull her mother back and escort her back into their home.

A search party is assembled to comb the woods of Vermont as Lianna’s father, Warren, flies home from his business trip and Lianna’s younger sister, Paige, tries to help by swimming the Gale River. The search party dissipates as the days turn into weeks and then is called off when a piece of Annalee’s nightshirt is found hanging from a tree branch and she is presummed dead.

Lianna, though, refuses to give up on finding out what happened to her mother. She grows suspicious of her parents’ relationship: her significantly younger sister was born after a series of miscarriages attributed to her father’s genes yet looks nothing like Warren; her mother only left her bed while sleepwalking when Warren was out of town; her mother traded suspicious phone calls with Gavin Rikert, a detective and fellow sleepwalker. As Lianna’s suspicions grow (and her relationships with Gavin deepens), she has to come to terms with the secrets her family is keeping and the genetic legacy of sleepwalking in her own life.

Like me, she was sinking as inexorably as our mother; it was taking more time, but the course for us both was clear. Eventually, it seemed, we both would hit bottom.

Bohjalian’s novel is split into two parts; both by the author’s writing structure and style. In the first part, the novel is centered on the repercussions Annalee’s disappearance has on her family and presents itself as a family drama. In the second, after Annalee’s body is found, the novel switches to be a crime drama as Lianna becomes paranoid about family and friends and is determined to solve the case.

Gone. The word was one of those euphemisms that some people used instead of dead. It sounded less harsh. It was closer to out. Here was the spectrum, I thought: Your mom is out. Your mom is gone. Your mom is dead.

The novel also switches back and forth between two narrators: Lianna (voiced by Cady McClain on the audiobook), who provides the bulk of the narration, and an unknown woman voiced by Grace Experience. The identity of the woman is reveled at the end of the novel, but her interjections into the narrative provide more information about parasomnia and how it manifests itself as sleepwalking, sleep-sex, and other afflictions the characters in this novel experience.

As interesting as this tidbits of information were for me, I grew rather bored and frustrated with this novel. Based on discussions with my book club about this novel, the issues all of us had seemed to stem from the way the genre of the novel switched halfway through. Some of us preferred the family drama; some of us preferred the crime novel. Yet none of us were wholly satisfied by the abrupt shift in the story.

I also struggled with the main narrator, Lianna. She isn’t the sharpest of wannabe detectives; some of the aspects of her mother’s case that take her pages and pages to realize felt rather obvious to me. Her relationship with Gavin was likely written to keep the narrator unsure about his motives towards her, but the age gap between them and his relationship with Annalee amplified the creepiness factor for me and put me off on him and Lianna as characters.

The premise of this novel was promising, and I did enjoy learning more about sleepwalking as a condition. (I can always count on Bohjalian to do his homework.) The execution, though, wasn’t there for me, and I’d have to rank this as the weakest of Bohjalian’s novels that I’ve read.

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2 comments

  1. Ti

    I love how personable this author is. He is always so gracious and more than willing to interact with his fans so I am careful with my reviews when it comes to his books. A few have given me mixed feelings but he is just so great in real life. You know?

    Like

    • He followed me on Twitter immediately after I posted this so I understand wanting to be careful with your reviews, Ti. I always try to be gracious even in my critique, and it seems like he’s been the same way with reacting to them.

      Like

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