Bound

You start your journey in Bound, Antonya Nelson's deceptively loose-limbed tenth book, careening down the side of a Colorado mountain. Misty Mueller, a lapsed AA member, has driven off the road while in the throes of a hangover. When we meet her, she's dead. Her dog, protected in a metal kennel, is spared serious injury and escapes the ruined car. Lured by the scent of a nearby stream, she wanders into the chill of the autumn night.

Without its familiarity, the car evaporated from her attention, sucked into the overwhelming enormity of the rest of the world. She dashed headlong toward the water. Plunging in, she was startled by the current; she flailed and her eyes rolled, panicked and wild. She raised her neck, scrambled, and only occasionally, and only momentarily, found purchase on the rocks beneath.

That's a pretty good blueprint of what you're in for as Nelson sends you rocketing along in Bound, her prose as bracing and bruising as anything in that alpine stream. We learn Misty has left behind a teenage daughter, Cattie, who she has named after her best friend from high school, Catherine. Though the two women haven't spoken in 25 years, Misty's will leaves the rebellious teen in Catherine's care.

 

While Misty's life ends in Southern Colorado, where the author and her husband own part of a remote ghost town, the elder Catherine still lives in Nelson's hometown of Wichita, Kansas. It's the only place she's ever lived. (It's even in her name: Catherine Desplaines—Catherine of the plains.) She's the wife of a much older man, a serial philanderer, and when she learns of her friend's death and bequest, the past opens up to engulf her. Cattie, meanwhile, surly and rebellious in a posh Vermont boarding school, runs away and embarks on a road trip of her own.

 

The threads in Bound, start to knit together when Cattie and Catherine finally meet. Catherine, at a loss as to how best to engage the new arrival, takes Cattie on a tour of her mother's former life. There's Misty's childhood home, there's the high school hallway where Catherine and Misty became fast friends, there's the dive apartment they rented, ground zero of a willfully dangerous girlhood. But it's not so simple. Adolescent memories are overlaid with adult life, and every spot has multiple meanings: "For Catherine, Wichita was a big bag of loose yarn, ensnared connections that knotted together the past and the present without clear cause and effect or pattern."

 

Through it all, a static crackle in the background, runs news and speculation about the self-named BTK serial killer who murdered ten people in and around Wichita. He's at the start of his gruesome career at the start of the novel, and as the book draws to a close, some 30 years later, he's been caught. "BTK" stands for his methods—bind, torture, kill—and it's impossible to ignore the echo in the book's title. But Nelson gives BTK the slip, acts as alchemist and turns the noun into a verb. By the close of her first-rate novel, her characters, if not exactly free, are at least bound for something new.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

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