"Bound," the title of a new novel by Antonya Nelson, might have better suited a book of linked tales by the award-winning author of short stories, whose credits include the O. Henry prize anthology, among others. 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.
The book swirls around the onetime friendship of Catherine and Misty, a pair of high school pals who part ways after graduation due to differences in social class. Catherine, the daughter of an academic, heads off to college in Wichita. Meanwhile, the impoverished Misty, unloved but pregnant, lights out alone for Texas. Decades later, as the book begins, childless Catherine is married to a philandering university professor. At the same time, Misty's loneliness -- and her unchanged status as a loser -- finds final expression in a fatal car crash. The question of who will take charge of Misty's orphaned daughter drives the rest of the novel.
Throughout it, Nelson likens relationships to knots tied in ropes that either hold or fray with time. But her creepy reference to BTK adds little to a tale already burdened by illogic. (Misty is an out-of-work alcoholic, yet she sends her daughter to a tony prep school. Where does she get the money?) Also vexing are the book's constant swerves in perspective. (Action is viewed through the eyes of numerous characters, even the minor ones, including a dog.)
Ultimately, "Bound" tries to resolve Catherine and Misty's relationship, as well as others, with a denouement that acknowledges BTK's final days of terror, yet it slides away from any conclusive ending. If there's a satisfying novel to be found within the snarls of "Bound," it has yet to be unraveled.