Cover of Bound

James McKean ’68, ’74

Truman State University Press: 2017


Bound presents a lyrical memoir about growing up in the Pacific Northwest and the women whose feminine fortitude contributed to the author’s life.

Taking readers into the kitchens and parlors of mid-twentieth-century America, McKean lovingly unpacks the attic trunk, sharing the exploits of his wife, mother, grandmother, and great-great-grandmother-in-law Rachel Cartwright Lee, among others.

At a time when ladies were expected to stay home and not make a scene, one woman swam for the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle and won a bronze medal in the 1936 Olympics. Another divorced an abusive husband and became a farmer. Others carried derringers, smoked cigarettes, rode horses, bound books, and through it all, held families together.

As a boy, McKean says he took these family members for granted. In Bound, he redeems himself by recapturing their individual beauty and dignity.

A glimpse of his grandmother:

Fifty-five years later, I remember my grandmother as a slight woman stooped as a willow, descending into my parents’ kitchen from her room above the garage, a single bed made, a bedside table where she kept a two-dollar bill, its corner torn off so the bad luck would pour out, and three silver dollars, each minted in 1921, three years after the death of her second son (in the 1918 influenza pandemic.)

Beside her prayer book, a box of Kleenex that smelled like lilacs. Just now, over the fence, lilacs steal into our backyard in Iowa City, the neighbor having not pruned them in the twenty-six years we have lived here. I don’t mind. My grandmother blooms each spring and fills the yard with her silent air, her faded print dress, sweater sleeves pushed up, her elbows dabbed with ointment and Saran wrapped for the psoriasis, her white hair permed and combed and held by a clasp.