Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

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.

Summary from Goodreads


I have never read this author before, nor can I clearly define what genre this book belongs to. The nearest I can get to is fiction, because myth or magical realism or historical fiction with a dash of magic are a bit on the nose, and too narrow to properly describe what kind of book Bowlaway is.

I do know that I loved it. There was something so homey about the narrative voice, almost like listening to a beloved grandparent tell a story from their past. I could listen to that voice (in my head) and follow wherever it leads.

And it led me on an adventure, my companions the Truitt family and the other townsfolk of Salford. At once poignant, funny, heartbreaking, and mysterious, Bowlaway is one of my favorite reads of 2019 so far, and has introduced me to a new author that I am enthusiastic to read more of.

The characters, even the ones I didn’t like, were fascinating and engaging, and still very human. I couldn’t find fault with any of them, though they were characters riddled with faults and fallacies and quirks and obsessions, but still familiar enough, human enough, for me to see them as fully realized creations of the author’s mind.

If you’re looking for a different kind of read, or just a book that will take you away from life (more specifically, your life) for awhile, I highly recommend Bowlaway as the remedy.

Let me know what you think! And if you’ve read something similar, or have other book recommendations, let me know!

*Originally posted on previous blog on May 18, 2019

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