three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
50-Jan-Feb-2011
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A-BoundO. Henry Award–winning short story writer Antonya Nelson's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, Redbook, Best American Short Stories, and six collections. Bound is her fourth novel. Reviewed: Some Fun ( 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006).

The Story: When successful Houston realtor Misty Mueller dies in a car crash, her estranged childhood friend Catherine Desplaines is shocked to learn that she has been named as the guardian of Misty's 15-year-old daughter, Cattie. As teens in 1970s Wichita, Catherine and Misty had been inseparable, getting high and trolling for older men in bars, but then Catherine went to college and lost touch with her underprivileged friend. Now in her 40s, Catherine seemingly has no room in her placid suburban--and childless--life for a troubled teen. As she struggles to relate to Cattie, Catherine begins to reconnect with the past and forge an identity separate from her philandering husband and domineering mother.
Bloomsbury. 240 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781596915756

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Bound is one of those rare books that can be hilarious and snarky and heart-bruisingly moving all at once. Nelson's work feels brazenly honest because her characters' relationships are as richly textured and complex as our own." Alex Lemon

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"I have to agree with novelist Michael Chabon's book jacket blurb, which envies the reader new to Nelson's work. She's a treat. ... In Bound, Nelson teaches us that we may not always have to choose between naughty or nice, polished or rough, that perhaps we're most ourselves when we're a little of both." Jeffrey Ann Goudie

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mixing the admittedly bourgeois undertaking of meticulously crafted prose with working class grit is risky--it can devolve into condescension or cartoonishness--but Nelson, like Raymond Carver, strikes a remarkable balance. ... It is a work that resists the novelistic convention of having a climax, instead it eddies and returns." Carolyn Kellogg

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's a liberation to read Nelson here in the long form. There's no question of her superlative gifts for the short story. ... In Bound, Nelson makes her story as big as it should be, and gives her characters room to run." Liesl Schillinger

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Abandonment, adoption, connection, dependence--these themes link Nelson's relatively plotless novel into a satisfying whole. ... Bound is a fine novel but would have been better if Nelson had committed solely to the interdependent lives of her fictional and utterly convincing characters." Alec Solomita

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"As it is, Bound is an ironic name for a novel that wants to intertwine the fates of its characters--including two from a town stalked by the serial killer known as BTK (bind, torture, kill)--but without tying up loose threads. ... If there's a satisfying novel to be found within the snarls of Bound, it has yet to be unraveled." Susan Comninos

Critical Summary

Both humorous and heartbreaking, Nelson's in-depth character study explores the fragile ties that bind and their capacity to strengthen, change, and dissolve completely. While several critics heaped praise on Nelson for her memorable characters and carefully crafted prose, others had misgivings about confusing shifts in perspective, a lack of plot development, stereotyped males, unresolved loose ends, and the use of the BTK serial killer as a metaphor linking the past to the present. However, the depth and intensity of Nelson's female characters and the complex, colorful relationships between them compensated for many of these perceived failings. Honest and edgy, Bound will charm readers who can forgo action and excitement in favor of this novel's quiet emotional power.

Also by the Author

Female Trouble Stories (2002): Nelson's fourth short story collection, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, maps the rough, uneven terrain of the female heart with sharp insight, compassion, and humor.