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