The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

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“Everyone in the county presumed that my mother’s body was decaying- becoming porridge- at the bottom of the gale river.”

The mysterious disappearance of Annalee Ahlberg consumes her children and husband when daughters Lianna and Paige wake to find their beloved mother gone.  Her sleepwalking is unique in ways that differentiate her from other sleep disorder cases. She is a sleepwalker that acts out her dreams, some in humorous ways others that are terrifying just like the night eldest daughter Lianna saved her beautiful mother from jumping off a bridge in her sleep. It has been a while since anything has happened, and the lull has come to a terrifying end. The girls await their father Warren’s return from a trip, and are filled with frustration when the police don’t take her disappearance seriously.With nothing but a piece  of fabric  from her nightshirt left behind, it is assumed she may have drowned in the river. Youngest daughter Paige is dedicated to finding her mother, both terrified and hopeful as she swims the Gale, doggedly hunting for clues or for Annalee’s body , which in truth she really doesn’t want to find. As the days collect, they begin to fear the worst and the hope that she is still alive is now a diseased and dying one.

Gavin Rikert, handsome young detective on the case, seems to already know things about Annalee that her daughter doesn’t, and while Lianna is drawn to him she senses something is hiding in the murky depths of her mother’s strange condition. Something that Gavin himself seems tangled in.  How is it she comes to be undressing her mother’s true nature through her own budding relationship with the young detective? Slowly things about her mother and father’s marriage float up and disturb her memories, embarrassing intimacies that she dismissed are now a brewing storm in her heart. Annaalee’s absence has made  Lianna realize just how much she didn’t know, nor understand about her mother’s unusual case of parasomnia  but more, about her own mother as a person. There are so many secrets, tentacles of secrets that even grasp at her little sister Paige and her strange behavior. What does Marilyn, her mother’s confidant, know about the days leading up to her disappearance? Can Marilyn help her figure out the puzzling mystery and maybe help Lianna understand why the detective gives her pause? Is it safe to trust him when she is falling for him? Can she trust her father? Anyone?

Without spoiling this story, I enjoyed that it didn’t come off as yet another ‘thriller’, this is more than some mind game. With her daughters, there is a heavy suffocating grief as well as hunger to solve their mother’s disappearance. There is guilt, because children always blame themselves, deserved or not. But you can’t leave out Warren and the difficulty such afflictions have, not just on the patient’s love life, but their partners too. What is it that kept their mother grounded and safe when their father was home and yet off she went, escaping into the darkest of nights in a dream state when he was away. Lianne learns humility early on when neighbors witness her mother’s nighttime antics. More  embarrassing than neighbors witnessing your family’s eccentricities is the terrifyingly disturbing discoveries about your mother and all her disastrous flaws, which Lianne will unearth and dredge through after she is gone. She will do anything to find out if she drowned, was murdered or confused somewhere frozen in a sleep state? Just what is possible? With the nagging memory of her mother nearly jumping from the bridge before, was it damning of Lianne to be so careless in the trust that Annalee’s medications were stabilizing her?  Lianne wears a heavy cloak of responsibility, and she longs to ease her little sister’s mind… but everything is sinking, and her mother could be at the bottom of it all. Some secrets may be best kept hidden, but they always float to the surface and do their damage. The Sleepwalker is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel where parasomnia seems like both an enchantment and a curse for one family. A gorgeous novel for the start of 2017!

Publication Date: January 10 2017

Doubleday Books

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