Bound by Antonya Nelson

Have you ever been in that position of needing to write your book review, but being utterly unable to begin? When it’s not even that you don’t know what to say- you know what points you want to make- but you can’t think of a way to begin or connect any of them. That’s where I am right now.

(If you’re anything like me, you wrote that paragraph and then left for ten minutes to do other procrastinatey things, like contemplate breakfast, be a nuisance to your mother, force your cat into a cuddling position, and gaze meaningfully at the book that so stubbornly refuses to solve all of your problems for you.)

Bound is a novel that very surprisingly packs about ten story lines into a relatively slim 229 pages. It opens in the point of view of a dog named Max, who’s just plunged off a cliff with her owner, Misty. She sits in the smoking wreck of the demolished car, a book on tape ceaselessly rewinding and repeating itself, as she decides whether she should stay with her owner, or venture off into the wilderness that calls her so strongly. She follows the noise of running water and, eventually, finds herself in the hands of a young woman and her boyfriend. We don’t hear from them again until the very last pages of the book.

From here we go onward and meet the central characters, the ones who carry the plot. First, there’s fifteen year-old Cattie, away at boarding school, whose mother, Misty, has just died in a car accident when her vehicle went off a cliff. Then there’s Catherine Desplaines, and her husband Oliver. Twenty years ago, Catherine was Misty’s best friend, and somewhere in between, Misty named Catherine the legal guardian of her child, should anything happen to her. Though they haven’t spoken in the interim, Catherine remembers how close she and her friend used to be, and it’s this fond loyalty that makes it impossible for her to dismiss this unexpected turmoil in her life. The narration is punctuated by memories of Misty, flashbacks to their grungy shared childhood.

The story isn’t just about the two Catherines (yes, Cattie is short for Catherine- I thought that was quite touching), though. It’s shared by the elder Catherine’s husband, Oliver, who has about thirty years on his third wife. I want to hate Oliver- he’s had three wives, each younger than the last, and now he’s sleeping with a “Sweetheart” younger than his youngest daughter. But for some reason I can’t explain, I don’t. Nelson writes his character in such a way as to suggest, not that his behavior is right or excusable, but that it’s unimportant. Unremarkable, maybe. That it doesn’t detract from the person he is, except for when it does. No, that won’t make sense to you until you read the book.

Every character in the book is like this. Not despicable, no. They don’t all have such massive, hidden character flaws. I can’t put it better than one of the praises on the back did, so.

“Nelson’s prose is precise and energetic, and her insights delight because they manage to be at once surprising and so right as to seem inevitable.” -New York Times Book Review

This is exactly what this book is. There were a multitude of moments when I would read some two-word thought, some justification that explains what the character was thinking when they decided to do this, and why that’s perfectly understandable and human, and I would just stop and think, “Well, of course. Doesn’t everybody?” It’s not just this novel; I truly enjoy any novel that can give me a moment like this, and I praise any writer who accomplishes it more than once within the pages of her book (because just one might be an accident).

Now, just to give you a rough idea, there are also the characters of Grace Harding, Catherine’s mother; Yasmin Keene, her old colleague and friend; Ito, the flamboyant and energetic classmate who spirits Cattie away from the boarding school; Joanne, his surly, prickly sister; Leslie and YaYa, Oliver’s two previous wives; Miriam, the daughter who loves to hate and shock him, who, at thirty-two, has yet to grow past the teenage rebellion stage of her life; and Randall, a young war vet (we think), suffering from PTSD, who just kind of walks out in the middle of the book.

Together, every one of these storylines combine into an intellectually plump masterpiece that makes it’s statement without being exaggerated. It was a joy to read, and fairly quick. It’s been reviewed before by Shane, which is where I heard of it. I can’t stress this enough: listen to your librarians. They know what they’re talking about.

Oh! And there’s also a serial killer. I don’t know how I forgot the serial killer. Dormant for thirty years and decided to resurface just as the other action in the book began. He’s a background story, relayed to us only when a central character is watching the news or listening to the radio, yet his element in the book doesn’t seem out of place at all. That’s what’s really remarkable about this novel; it’s a million crazy loose ends all at once, yet they fit together so neatly. A story could not seem more real.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 11:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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