Summary and book reviews of Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken X
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2019, 384 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A sweeping and enchanting new novel from the widely beloved, award-winning author Elizabeth McCracken about three generations of an unconventional New England family who own and operate a candlepin bowling alley.

From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century - nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person - Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford's most defining landmark - with Bertha its most notable resident.

When Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son, who arrives in Salford claiming he is heir apparent to Truitt Alleys. Soon it becomes clear that, even in her death, Bertha's defining spirit and the implications of her obfuscations live on, infecting and affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills.

In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humor, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unraveling of a family's myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide. 

1
The Found Woman

They found a body in the Salford Cemetery, but aboveground and alive. An ice storm the day before had beheaded the daffodils, and the cemetery was draped in frost: midspring, Massachusetts, the turn of the century before last. The body lay faceup near the obelisk that marked several generations of Pickersgills.

Soon everyone in town would know her, but for now it was as though she'd dropped from the sky. A woman, stout, one bare fist held to her chin, white as a monument and soft as marble rubbed for luck. Her limbs were willy-nilly. Even her skirt looked broken in two along its central axis, though it was merely divided, for cycling. Her name was Bertha Truitt. The gladstone bag beside her contained one abandoned corset, one small bowling ball, one slender candlepin, and, under a false bottom, fifteen pounds of gold.

The watchman was on the Avenue of Sorrows near where the babies were interred when he spotted her down the hill in the frost. He was a teenager, ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

McCracken's lush and original writing is the novel's greatest strength, and will appeal to readers willing to while away time hanging out in a local gathering spot. The omniscient narrative tone is somewhat distant and reflective, and yet the details chosen are wonderfully specific and surprising...continued

Full Review (901 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Bowlaway is a large and caterwauling sort of opera buffa, packed with outsize characters — some with recherché talents — and wild, often dreamlike events. If this novel were a bar, it would be the kind of joint where the Christmas lights are left on all year long...This novel’s cast grows epic, but McCracken is always most impressive when she works small, when she is describing movie kisses or corsets or simply loneliness and longing.

NPR
Bowlaway, too, gives you something to think about besides your regrets. Under the guise of a playful portrait of three generations' involvement with a nascent sport in small-town New England, McCracken's novel encompasses issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in 20th century America. Add to that the many unusual forms love takes — and death, too — and you've got a novel that scores big.

Entertainment Weekly
Whimsy and weirdness spark at Bowlaway’s edges...This is McCracken’s masterpiece, a story of reinvention: that most American of themes, the promise that’s guided a country through depressions, wars, tragedies, betrayals. The author has reframed the family saga for the misfit: that truest American character.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Parents and children, lovers, brothers and sisters, estranged spouses, work friends and teammates all slam themselves together and fling themselves apart across the decades in the glorious clatter of McCracken’s unconventional storytelling.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Stellar.... McCracken writes with a natural lyricism that sports vivid imagery and delightful turns of phrase. Her distinct humor enlivens the many plot twists that propel the narrative, making for a novel readers will sink into and savor

Booklist
Starred Review. [McCracken] is a beloved bard of the eccentric.... McCracken writes with exuberant precision, ingenious lyricism, satirical humor, and warmhearted mischief and delight.... This compassionate and rambunctious saga about love, grief, prejudice, and the courage to be one's self chimes with novels by John Irving, Audrey Niffenegger, and Alice Hoffman.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories
Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway is so deliciously weird and wise and alive. It’s a page-turner set in a bowling alley, a grief-haunted and hope-raddled book, and a gloriously fresh paean to the 'perversity of love.' I loved it - what a generous pour of humor and sorrow and wonder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The History of Bowling

Women bowling in dresses 1915Bowling as a sport is arguably more familiar than it is popular. Top competitors and heroes of the sport are not typically household names, yet most people have a basic understanding of how it's played. Even without famous athletes promoting it, bowling is a steady component of modern culture. However, there has been a decline in its popularity since the 1970s (having reached its peak in the 1950s-60s). From 1998-2013, the number of bowling alleys in the U.S. fell from 5,400 to 3,976 (a 26% decrease).

Accessibility has always been part of bowling's appeal. For a relatively inexpensive cost, the same venue and tools are used by competitive and casual bowlers, sometimes even side-by-side. Although it does not have the same spectator draw ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Elizabeth McCracken

If you liked Bowlaway, try these:

  • Heart of Junk jacket

    Heart of Junk

    by Luke Geddes

    Published 2021

    About this book

    A hilarious debut novel about an eclectic group of merchants at a Kansas antique mall who become implicated in the kidnapping of a local beauty pageant star.

  • Night of Fire jacket

    Night of Fire

    by Colin Thubron

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Award-winning, bestselling novelist and travel writer Colin Thubron returns to fiction with his first novel in more than a decade, a searing, poetic masterwork of memory.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: His Only Wife
    His Only Wife
    by Peace Adzo Medie
    21-year-old Afi is a talented Ghanaian seamstress eager to study fashion design, but her life is ...
  • Book Jacket: We Have Been Harmonized
    We Have Been Harmonized
    by Kai Strittmatter
    You'd be forgiven if, while reading We Have Been Harmonized, you momentarily mistook it for a ...
  • Book Jacket: Jack
    Jack
    by Marilynne Robinson
    If you are a fan of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead series, you already know who Jack is. Chances are, ...
  • Book Jacket: Migrations
    Migrations
    by Charlotte McConaghy
    Migrations, Australian author Charlotte McConaghy's literary fiction debut, earned a notably high ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Piranesi
    by Susanna Clarke

    A new novel from the NY Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    A Girl is A Body of Water
    by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

    A powerful portrait of a young Ugandan girl and her family.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Find Me
by André Aciman

The author of the worldwide bestseller Call Me by Your Name revisits its complex and beguiling characters.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive
by Natasha Trethewey

The moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of tragedy.

Enter


Wordplay

Solve this clue:

L N Take I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.