By Chris Bohjalian
Narrators: Cady McClain & Grace Experience
Penguin Random House Audio/Random House Audio
Genre: Fiction – Thrillers – Psychological
Release Date: January 10, 2017
9 Hours and 30 Minutes
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted. FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a volunteer moderator for Chris Bohjalian’s website and ave always been a fan of his work.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire—the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.
When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge. The morning of Annalee’s disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs’ Victorian home. As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee’s disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?
Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.
Chris does a lot of things really well, but he excels at two things in particular: writing a woman’s voice, and finding the creepiness in ordinary things. I was aware of which characters could be the perpetrator(s) of the tragic events in this story, but not why and I leaned back and forth on who the villain might be.
Herein, Bohjalian takes the relatively benign-seeming, but not well-understood (at the time), physical-disorder of parasomnia and shows us it’s not-so-benign facets.
The book is set in the fairly recent past — when cell-phones are becoming popular — and is told in a first person past tense by the older sibling, Liana. Cady McClain is the voice of Liana. She does a great job with I just realized that “Lianna” and “AnnaLee” are very similar – disjointedly homophonic (a term I just made up).
It is also peppered with the diary entries of an unidentified person. The diary entries are voiced by Chris’ daughter, the actor, Grace Experience. Her voice was also used in Chris’ recent novel THE GUEST ROOM. It has a vulnerable quality and is ageless.
Much of the story deals with Liana trying to mother her younger sister, and to fill in where her father seems incapable in either his grief, general disaffection, or perhaps his guilt. It’s also funny that Lianna is a magician who plays small gigs. A disappearing sleepwalker feels like a magic trick, like sleight of hand: Where did the woman in the cupboard go?
At times the story is painful and hard to bear: it deals with a terrible loss and then even more terrible mysteries. I had a lot of questions raised about the book, and some are still running around in my head:
Why was it set in the past and why this topic — with some of his books Chris has discussed how the idea came to him like being shown a photo of a dent in a wall made by the head of a victim of domestic violence.
THE SLEEPWALKER was gripping, thought provoking, emotional, and surprising. It doesn’t really have a thriller aspect but it is suspenseful.