Summary and book reviews of Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken X
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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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, ...

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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 Members Only (901 words).

(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.

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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 ...

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