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.
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Jan 2017
From the cover
Everyone in the county presumed that my mother's body was decaying—becoming porridge—at the bottom of the Gale River. It was the year 2000, and we were but three seasons removed from the Y2K madness: the overwrought, feared end of the digital age. It was a moment in time when a pair of matching towers still stood near the tip of lower Manhattan. Fracking and photobomb and selfie were years from becoming words, but we were only months from adding to our vocabularies the expression hanging chad.
I was twenty-one that summer and fall, and my sister was twelve. Neither of us fully recovered.
The experts were surprised that Annalee Ahlberg's body hadn't been found, since a drowned body usually turns up near its point of entry into the water. But near is a relative term. And so police divers had searched long stretches of the waterway and even dredged a section along the levee that was built to protect the road from the flash floods that seemed to mangle the great, sweeping curve there every other decade. But there was no trace of her. They had scoured as well the small, shallow beaver pond in the woods a quarter of a mile behind my family's red Victorian and found nothing there, too. Nevertheless, my younger sister and I thought it most likely that our mother was in that Vermont river somewhere. We hadn't given up all hope that she would return alive—at least I hadn't—but every day it grew harder to feign optimism for our father or say the right things (the appropriate things) when people asked us how we were doing.
One day after school, a little more than two weeks after the police and the mobile crime lab and the Zodiac boats had moved on—when all the tips had proven apparitions—Paige took her swim fins, a snorkel, and a mask and had gotten as far as the edge of the river before I was able to convince her that she was wasting her time. My sister was sitting on a rock about fifteen feet above the water in her navy-blue tank suit with the profile of a seahorse on her hipbone, the suit she wore when she swam laps at the pool at the college where our father taught. Clearly she meant business. Paige was in the seventh grade then, already a daredevil ski racer to be reckoned with, and in the summer and fall, at her ski coach's urging, most days she swam laps for an hour or so. She was still young enough to believe that she was a force of nature. She still dreamt when she was awake.
"You know, the water is so low now, you really won't need your fins," I observed, hoping I sounded casual as I sat down beside her. I thought it was a little ridiculous that Paige thought her fins might be of use. It was the middle of September and it hadn't rained in Vermont in a month. It hadn't rained since our mother had disappeared (which we viewed as mere meteorological coincidence, not a sign of astrological or celestial relevance). The water was only shoulder high in that part of the river, and the channel was no more than ten or twelve yards wide. The fins would be an encumbrance, not an asset, to a swimmer as strong as Paige.
"Then I won't use them," she mumbled.
"Maybe at the basin," I suggested, throwing her a bone. The basin, a little downstream of where we were sitting, was at the bottom of a small waterfall. The water was perhaps a dozen feet deep there, and she could use her fins to push to the bottom.
"Maybe," she agreed.
The riverbank was steeply pitched, the slope awash with oak and maple saplings, the leaves already turning the colors of copper and claret. There were occasional clusters of raspberry bushes, the fruit by then long eaten by humans and deer. There were boulders and...