Loneliness is two candlesticks on a dead woman’s dining room table in Bound, writer Antonya Nelson’s divinely perceptive fourth songbird of a novel. Cassandra Campbell narrates, bringing depth and order to moving plots and dark, funny, bruised characters. Her intuitively timed cadences spoon Bound’s tart poetry in lines such as, “Her black linen outfit…invisible like a mime’s…from the back like a Ninja.”
Habitual pleaser Catherine Desplaines anchors Bound and Campbell haunts her forced mildness with cobwebs of fragile jokiness that submerge Catherine’s awareness of disgracing her glacial, feminist mother (muted by a stroke, confined to a nursing home) by marrying young and becoming the dutiful third wife to snappish, elegant Oliver.
Nearing 70, Oliver is secretly in love with the glossy-haired “Sweetheart” who manages his bakery. He’s a clipped, cultivated, precise speaker, though Campbell is careful not to overplay his age or station with too much booming. The wealthy Desplaines live in Wichita, Kansas, where Bound is largely set, framed “precise as tweezers” against the historically accurate 2004 resurfacing of BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Wichita’s notorious serial killer.
BTK’s “comeback” terror spree coincides with Catherine’s discovery that Misty Mueller, her underprivileged, reckless best friend from high school a bond disconnected long before Misty became a mother was recently killed in a car accident. Her will appoints Catherine, a virtual stranger, legal guardian to Catherine “Cattie” Mueller, the 15-year-old daughter named after her old friend.
Bound questions how and why ordinary people tether themselves to daily tedium; stale marriages; parasitic grown children; insomnia; even pointless memories. For Catherine, a self-described “unprepared” adult, the reward comes with her decision to perform her moral obligation and seek out Cattie. She finds an acidic loner nursing grief and gravel in her voice, a girl who nourishes Catherine’s grown-up hollowness by allowing Catherine to comfort her. For once she’s navigated her own course. It’s a choice that ultimately releases and renews Catherine, and, perhaps in the end, Oliver, too. Nita Rao
Antonya Nelson is known for her razor-sharp depictions of contemporary family life in all of its sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious complexity. Her latest novel has roots in her own youth in Wichita, in the neighborhood stalked by the serial killer known as BTK (Bind, Torture, and Kill). A story of wayward love and lost memory, of public and private lives twisting out of control, Bound is Nelson's most accomplished and emotionally riveting work.
Catherine and Oliver, young wife and older entrepreneurial husband, are negotiating their difference in age and a plethora of well-concealed secrets. Oliver, now in his 60s, is a serial adulterer and has just fallen giddily in love yet again. Catherine, seemingly placid and content, has ghosts of a past she scarcely remembers. When Catherine's long-forgotten high school friend dies and leaves Catherine the guardian of her teenage daughter, that past comes rushing back. As Oliver manages his new love, and Catherine her new charge and darker past, local news reports turn up the volume on a serial killer who has reappeared after years of quiet. In a time of haunting and new revelations, Nelson's characters grapple with their public and private obligations, continually choosing between the suppression or indulgence of wild desires. Which way they turn, and what balance they find, may only be determined by those who love them most.