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Two Generations 'Bound' By Friendship And Fear


In her extraordinary fourth novel, Antonya Nelson captures the clamor and swirl of life in this new century. Her story of Misty and Catherine, two high school best friends whose lives have drifted apart, then intersect tragically 25 years later, turns on missed cell phone calls, missing guardrails, rekindled addictions and relationships dissolving overnight.

Boundbegins from the point of view of Max, a female dog whose hungover owner, Misty, has plunged off a steep road in the Colorado Rockies. The opening lines are typical of Nelson, whose language is precise, provocative and original. "The dog had two impulses. One was to stay with the car, container of civilization, and the other was to climb through the ruined window into the wild." Max survives; Misty does not.

The battle between the civilized and the wild continues throughout the novel, which is narrated from the points of view of far-flung characters who are connected (or bound) in surprising ways. A Houston insurance agent who knew Misty from AA meetings tracks down Misty's 15-year-old daughter Cattie at a prep school in New Hampshire.

Cattie, a tough loner, runs away to a classmate's place in Vermont. There she helps rescue a female dog and her newborn litter from the frozen woods. In one of the innumerable spot-on emotional moments in the book, Nelson describes Cattie watching the mother dog nurse her desperate puppies and being struck with her first outpouring of grief since her mother's death. "It came like a storm, like an act of God, like a bomb. It was sobbing that would last for hours," Nelson writes.

Thousands of miles away in Wichita, Kansas, Catherine is shocked to find herself named Cattie's guardian. Catherine is enmeshed in a complex web of her own -- an ailing mother in a nursing home; an older husband already involved with a fourth sweetheart (his infatuations strike him out of nowhere, "like an accident, like a car crash or knife cut"). All this, plus two stepdaughters and two portly corgis -- canine siblings who take the place of children. How can she fit in the newly orphaned Cattie?

In the background is the steady drone of news reports on Wichita's self-named BTK (bind-torture-kill) serial murderer, whose random violence once cast a menacing shadow over Misty and Catherine's drugged-out adolescence. BTK has begun sending threatening messages after lying dormant for 25 years.

As she pulls the tension to a flawlessly calibrated conclusion, Nelson uses details of the BTK killer's gruesome murders as a dark undercurrent to remind us of the ways in which friends, family and strangers obligate, abuse and occasionally rescue each other. In a world in which BTK exists, no one is out of danger, even at home.

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