Chris Bohjalian | The Sleepwalker (Doubleday)

When the answers finally came, I found them to be almost too little, too late.

Chris Bohjalian is a great writer. He crafts rich, interesting characters and puts them in not-quite-familiar situations. We want to know what will happen, maybe not so much to satisfy our own curiosity, but to see how it changes the lives of these characters.

That said, while I loved The Guest Room, I was left lukewarm by The Sleepwalker.

My malaise began with the first sentence, as the narrator revealed herself to be then-21-year-old Lianna Ahlberg, eldest daughter of a woman who disappeared from her home one night and was never found. A known sleepwalker, Anna Ahlberg presumably fell victim to an ongoing battle with sleepwalking. And thus begins the mystery: Did she really sleepwalk away from home? Is she dead? And how can they know without remains?

My #2 problem with the book may be obvious from the preceding paragraph. Did you notice how I gave Lianna’s full name, and then repeated the last name when I mentioned her mother? That’s what Bohjalian does, too, repeatedly referring to his missing character by her full name. Why? I have no idea, but it’s jarring and unnatural.

The author also repeated some wording from The Guest Room that annoyed me then, but not enough to distract me from that book’s many strengths. When Arianna meets with a neighbor to talk about her mom—and learn more of her secret history—she often refers to her as “the woman.” As in, “the woman was wearing…” I don’t know why it bothers me, but it does. The friend has a name; outside of that, “she” is a perfectly fine pronoun.

Lianna’s younger sister, 12-year-old Paige, is an element of the mystery, as we learn late in the book that she also sleepwalks. Or thinks she does. It runs in the family, doesn’t it? (Actually, the jury’s still out, with researchers and news reports saying it “may.”) Paige is also smart beyond her years, making her interactions with her sister enjoyable and humorous: the words she uses, the concepts she proposes, the ideas she holds.

Dad Warren is an underutilized and less rich character, often absent both physically (as he was the night his wife disappeared) and emotionally. Does he know more about his wife’s secret life than he’s letting on? How does he feel about Lianna taking an indefinite leave of absence from college to care for her remaining family members—suggesting he’s not capable of leading the household?

To complicate—or, really, maybe not to—things, Lianna begins dating Gavin, the lead detective on the case. She soon finds out that he knew her mother: they were “friends” who often secretly met for coffee. What other secrets is he keeping? Is Lianna betraying her mother by getting involved with her former friend—or was he more than that? Obviously, she has concerns, as she doesn’t tell her family about their trysts. Is Gavin good for her, or too good to be true?

When the answers finally came, I found them to be almost too little, too late. Bohjalian has laid out all the bread crumbs, of course, but I was tired: of the characters, of the “mystery,” of the book. It was one I could have easily put down, but the combination of author and driving questions kept me going. By the time the climax hit, I found I really didn’t care.

Based on his last book, Bohjalian has piqued my interest enough to want to check out some of his past works. This one, alas, is not one to which I will return. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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