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).Read more...
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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 sixties, 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 hauntings 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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-08-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Nelson’s (Talking in Bed) first novel in 10 years is set largely in the author’s childhood town of Wichita, Kans. Catherine Desplaines and her husband, Oliver, are at a crossroads in their marriage. The much older Oliver has perfected a pattern: marry, stay around for 15 years, then trade up to a younger woman. He and Catherine have been married for 18 years, which might seem impressive if Oliver didn’t have a mistress, known only as “the Sweetheart.” Catherine is too preoccupied to notice his infidelities since she’s become the guardian of an old friend’s teenage daughter, Cattie, after the friend dies suddenly. The girl’s impending arrival sends Catherine’s mind reeling back to her adolescence, when the infamous BTK (bind-torture-kill) serial killer, who coincidentally makes a reappearance in the novel’s present day, terrorized the neighborhood. Plays on the idea of “binding” can grow precious at times, but Nelson effectively explores issues of obligation, responsibility, and the possibility of creating new patterns and freeing ourselves from the past. Chapters from the perspectives of Oliver, Catherine, Cattie, and even Cattie’s dog assemble into a coherent, compassionate whole. (Oct.)
Family ties and other knotty subjects
In her short stories and previous novels, Antonya Nelson has established her niche by portraying the domestic crisis—the tensions between spouses and generations—with a feel for the humor underlying even the direst of events.
Her fourth novel continues in this vein, focusing on Catherine and Oliver—he an entrepreneur nearing 70, she barely older than his daughters from two previous marriages. Their relationship is already precarious, as Oliver is seriously entwined with the most recent of a long line of younger “Sweethearts,” and Catherine regularly wonders how she ended up with a humorless husband nearly as old as her nursing-home bound mother.
Then a curious missive arrives notifying Catherine that Misty, her best friend from high school—“fearless, loyal, in love with intoxication, adventure, a challenge,” whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in 23 years—has died in a car accident and has named Catherine the guardian of her teenage daughter, Cattie. Suddenly Catherine’s own nearly forgotten years of rebellion come rushing to the surface—the lying, skipping school, drugs and promiscuity leading to two abortions—things she has never confided to the upright and slightly stodgy Oliver.
Nelson delves into the vagaries of Catherine and Oliver’s marriage and perceptively dissects Catherine’s confrontational relationship with her mother, a former professor who is openly critical of many of Catherine’s life choices. Catherine knows she “would never be the daughter her mother might have wished for.”
Nelson’s only misstep seems to be interspersing her tale with updates on Wichita’s serial killer, known as BTK, who has resurfaced after decades of quiet—a side plot which seems artificial, and never really blends with or adds to her story of relationships renewed or discarded. But she shines once again in her depiction of the many guises of marriage, and family ties both strengthening and coming undone.