The Sleepwalker, Chris Bohjalian, author; narrators, Candy McClain, Grace Experience
The novel is told mostly through the voice of Lianna Ahlberg, but occasionally, another younger voice interjects with questions, concerns or explanations. I disliked several characters and I don’t know if it was the way the narrator portrayed them or if they were simply over developed, making them seem like caricatures rather than actual individuals.
Annalee and Warren Ahlberg lived in Bartlett, Vermont, with their two children, Paige and Lianna. Nine years separated the girls because of their mother’s frequent miscarriages. Paige was twelve and Lianna was twenty-one. She was about to enter her senior year in college.
Warren was a professor at Middlebury College and Annalee was an architect with an office in Middlebury. From outward appearances they were a typical happy family. Annalee was devoted to her children, and the couple seemed devoted to each other, but Annalee had a unique problem. She suffered from parasomnia or somnambulism or what is better known as sleepwalking. Lianna had, on occasion, discovered her mother in this state. One time, she actually found her on a bridge and may have saved her life. Annalee was unaware of what she did when she went for a walk in her sleep. Somnambulists had been known to drive in their sleep. Their eyes would be open, they would appear conscious, but they were in a sleep state and were not aware of the presence of others. They might go out naked, or take off their clothes at some point later on. They might have sex in their sleep. Sometimes, they would go out searching for sex while sleeping. They were unaware and often ashamed of this behavior. There were sleep clinics which attempted to treat this disorder which appeared to be genetic and could, therefore, be passed on to progeny.
Because Annalee only seemed to walk in her sleep when her husband, Warren, was traveling, he had stopped making business trips until he felt she was stable and no longer would be in danger of walking in her sleep and possibly coming to harm. When he felt it was safe, he decided to attend a conference, and on that first night when he was gone and the girls watched over their mother, something went wrong. When Paige woke up in the morning, she discovered her mother was gone. She rushed to tell Lianna. They both searched for her but did not find her. They called 911, but they were rebuffed by a responder who said they should call back because the shift was ending shortly. When they reached their dad, he told them how to proceed and the police eventually arrived. One of the detectives was a man called Gavin Rikert. Coincidentally, he also had a sleep disorder, and he and Annalee had become friends when they were both in the sleep clinic at the same time. Even though Annalee was a good deal older, they bonded because of their mutual problem. When he began to interrogate the family, he was kind and Lianna was attracted to him. It was largely through this relationship that the mystery of Annalee’s disappearance was explored.
Regarding the novel, I didn’t think the vulgar moments were necessary. I also thought that there were a lot of side themes which didn’t seem that relevant to the thread of the story. Lianna was a bit shallow and self-indulgent when it came to snooping into the affairs and private records of others. She seemed immature on the one hand and overly promiscuous on the other. Her rude, often insolent and arrogant behavior made the relationship with a more adult and older Gavin, seem less plausible to me. At 33, he was about a dozen years older. Why would a “grown-up” tolerate the tantrums of an immature young woman, even one who is trying to find out what happened to her mother, a mother who had also been his friend? Paige was a bit over characterized as a sarcastic near-teenager. Warren Ahlberg seemed a bit too distant at times, not involved enough with helping the girls cope with the mystery of their missing mother as a parent normally would, even if they were suffering as well.
While I enjoyed the book, because of the information on somnambulism, and it was obvious that the author did a great deal of research for the book, I found some of the story disjointed. Still, as with all of Bohjalian’s books, there were secrets, lies, twists, misdirection and surprises which held my interest. I never expected the ending, but it left me with unanswered questions that arose from what I thought were holes in the narrative that remained unfilled.