Nobody could accuse acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Antonya Nelson of sentimentality. Bound, her first long-form work in 10 years, opens with the compelling description of a fatal car crash’s immediate aftermath, narrated from the indifferent perspective of the driver’s dog. A few days later, teenage Cattie learns that her mother, Misty, died in the wreck.
The girl dwells on the pervasive feeling of isolation she felt prior to the accident: ‘She thought of herself, often, as a character in a book, in the third person, wandering a world that could be described as if from above, or beyond.’ The author shifts point of view often, from Cattie to Catherine – Misty’s long-ago best friend, who is surprised to find herself named guardian of a child she has never met – then on to Oliver, Catherine’s older husband.
Lurking in the domestic drama’s background is the real-life BTK (bind, torture, kill) strangler, who terrorised the Wichita area in the mid-’70s. After a 25-year silence he resurfaces, sending letters to the police and the local media detailing his crimes.
Nelson makes good use of the several meanings of ‘bound’, exploring what it means to be tied to someone, compelled to act, obligated. But her detachment from her characters sometimes feels like contempt. It’s as if she’s confirming Cattie’s adolescent suspicion – these are, after all, only characters in a book.