Friday, January 13, 2017

The Sleepwalker

Title:  The Sleepwalker
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  038553891X / 978-0385538916

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It makes all the sense in the world."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes I'm not sure which hits us harder ... that relief when we wake up from a nightmare and realize it was just a dream, or the sadness when we wake up from a good dream - a really god dream - and realize that nothing was real. And then there are moments like this: you're wide awake and wish you weren't. You wish it was just a dream. That is the worst, I agree."

I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian's books. I look forward to each new one for two reasons. One because usually tasks go undone and sleep gets forsaken as the books draw me and keep me avidly reading page by page until the very end. Second because each book that I have read takes on a completely different topic meticulously researched. The ones I have read in recent years dealt with sex trafficking, nuclear disaster, World War II, Armenian genocide, and herbalists. I have liked the books to varying degrees but always appreciated the thoughtfulness with which the topic is handled.

This book is no different. It centers around parasomnia, which is defined by the dictionary defines parasomnia as any of a group of sleep disorders characterized by unwanted behaviors or perceptions that occur during sleep or partial arousal from sleep. This book also narrowly focuses on the devastation - the guilt and the anguish of one family because of a disappearance.

Annalee Ahlberg and her family live in a small town in Vermont. She is an architect; her husband Warren is a professor. Their older daughter Lianna is twenty-one and a college student at Amherst. Their younger daughter Paige is twelve and on her way to becoming star athlete. Annalee suffers from parasomnia. One night, she disappears. An investigation ensues, and a family is left to cope. The story is told from Lianna's perspective as she attempts to step into her mother's role as homemaker, as she attempts to process her own grief, and as she attempts to investigate what happened.

Two things rankle a bit in this book. One is topic itself - parasomnia. The "unwanted behavior" described in this book is sexual activity; the medical term is sexsomnia. The condition is medically documented and has even been used as a defense in assault and rape cases. However, it leads to some graphic descriptions and makes for uncomfortable reading. So, reader beware. The other jarring note in this book is a relationship that develops that given the circumstances is completely inappropriate and, for me, unnecessary to the story.

This book reminds me of The Double Bind, the first Chirs Bohjalian book I read years ago. Both books narrate a story and in between present short snippets of another narration. In The Double Bind, the interludes were doctor's notes. In this book, they are excerpts from a journal. The big question in The Double Bind was the identity of the patient. The big question in this book is the identity of the journal writer. Is is Annalee whose sleepwalking is at the base of this book? Is it Lianna from whose perspective the main story is told? Is it Paige who is only twelve years old? Is it Gavin, the detective who is Annalee's friend and who is a sleepwalker? Is it perhaps even Warren with an unrevealed secret still to come? Is it another character yet to be introduced? The correct answer to this question is also answers the mystery of Annalee's disappearance.

Given the small number of characters in the book, I do guess the ending. However, I am not sure until the very end when the mystery is finally solved.That is mostly because with Chris Bohjalian's books, I expect a twist. The ending of The Double Bind came as a complete surprise such that I found myself re-reading that book to see if I could have seen this coming. This ending is not a surprise, but the book engrosses me regardless. The plight of this family and the voice of Lianna telling this story involves me into the story. Such is the magic of Chris Bohjalian's writing in most of his books. I find myself completely immersed in the story until the very last page.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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