BOUND, by Antonya Nelson. Bloomsbury, 231 pp., $25.
'Bound" has a riveting opening sequence: Misty Mueller accidentally drives off a cliff and breaks her neck. Her dog, only slightly wounded, finally gives up and leaves her bleeding mistress. The car sits there, its warning chime pinging away, the audio book of "Heart of Darkness" booming into the wilderness. Weeks go by before poachers find the car and Misty's 15-year-old daughter, Cattie, gets the news at boarding school. And because Cattie runs away, it will be a while before she learns that her mother left a will entrusting her care to an old high school friend. Cattie has never met the Catherine for whom she is named and to whom she's been bequeathed.
Her guardian-to-be, Catherine, is the childless third wife of a 69-year-old Wichita entrepreneur. She has no idea any of this has happened and almost doesn't find out, as the lawyer's letter is delivered to her mother's nursing home, where it molders for a while. Getting a brand-new teenage daughter was not on her agenda, nor that of her husband, Oliver. Well, since Cattie's disappeared, they can't get her very fast anyway, and the tension of the narrative slackens a bit, based on the expectations created by the opening chapter.
Although this is Nelson's fourth novel, she is better known for her stories, which appear in The New Yorker, Esquire and annual award anthologies. As with the stories, the best thing about "Bound" is its characters. Catherine's mother, a dour professor who has been silenced by a stroke, bears the frustration of her situation with dignity. Oliver, who ruminates on love as he cheats on Catherine with yet another younger woman, is surprisingly hard to hate. So are his crazy ex-wives, YaYa and Leslie, one a manic diva, the other an earnest spa director. And everyone in this book has a damn fine dog. But with the BTK serial killer lurking in the background - he was on the loose in Wichita during Nelson's childhood and resurfaced in 2004, when the novel takes place - you keep expecting more to happen than ever does. "Bound" starts out like it was written by Anita Shreve and ends up more like Lorrie Moore. Good ingredients, quirky recipe.