Bowlaway is an unconventional family saga, full of surprises and secrets, all vividly recounted in a striking story of a stranger who forever changes a small New England town and the inhabitants within. Bertha first appears in the Salford Cemetery with a small wooden ball, candlepin, and no answers to her past. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to Bertha than meets the eye, and perhaps her influence extends beyond the laws of this world. Elizabeth McCracken packs more life into her sentences than many authors pack into their whole books. The result is a wonderfully vibrant cast of characters and a story that reminds us of the magic of love. —Luisa— From Elaine and Luisa's Picks: January - February 2019
February 2019 Indie Next List
“At the turn of the 20th century, Bertha Truitt is found lying unconscious in a frosty New England cemetery with no explanation of how she arrived there and a past she is unwilling to talk about. In a bag by her side are a corset, a bowling ball, one candlepin, and 15 pounds of gold. Thus begins a story of love, bowling, and how Bertha Truitt would influence the town of Salford and its residents for generations to come. Elizabeth McCracken once again brings us superb storytelling that shows how our lives don’t always follow a straight line to where we thought we might be going.”
— Jessie Martin, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI
Winter 2019 Reading Group Indie Next List
“What a big, sprawling novel this is. It reads like an anecdotal history of a bowling alley, and the family who starts it, grows with it, and feels trapped by it. It’s about the farthest branches of a family tree and the stories we tell about them. But the best part is McCracken’s writing—every few pages a line or a passage will sneak up on you and knock your socks off.”
— Tyler Goodson, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
A Recommended Book of the Year from
NPR * Entertainment Weekly * O, The Oprah Magazine * The Washington Post * Southern Living * BBC * Huffington Post * Lit Hub * Kirkus * Bustle * Publishers Weekly * BookRiot * Popsugar * Bookish * The Boston Globe * The Seattle Times * Vulture * Real Simple * Good Housekeeping * Refinery29
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.
About the Author
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of seven books, including The Souvenir Museum, Bowlaway, Thunderstruck & Other Stories (winner of the 2014 Story Prize and long-listed for the National Book Award), and The Giant’s House (a National Book Award finalist). Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, won three Pushcart Prizes, a National Magazine Award, and an O. Henry Prize. She has served on the faculty at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently holds the James Michener Chair for Fiction at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Wildly entertaining... [A] wonderfully unpredictable multi-generational saga which revolves around a Massachusetts bowling alley.... Bowlaway celebrates the oddest of oddballs and the freakiest of freak accidents with wit and heart. To read McCracken’s inimitably clever sentences and follow her quirky narrative twists is to be constantly delighted.”
“Death and life, frosted with macabre comedy.... [McCracken] lures us in with her witty voice and oddball characters but then kicks the wind out of us. She never misses the infamous 7-10 split, managing to hit Annie Proulx and Anne Tyler with the same ball.... Endlessly surprising.”
— Washington Post
“An oddball masterpiece.... Elizabeth McCracken holds a funhouse mirror up to the Great American Novel. Whimsy and weirdness spark at Bowlaway’s edges.... This is McCracken’s masterpiece, a story of reinvention.... The author has reframed the family saga for the misfit: that truest American character.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“McCracken’s newest novel, a 20th-century family epic centered on candlepin bowling, is populated by strange, excellent characters, and unfolds with all the offbeat coziness and heartache of a great American fable: molasses floods, workplace fires, surprising heirs, and all.”
— Vanity Fair
“[McCracken has] considerable gifts as a novelist [and] instinctive access to the most intricate threads of human thought and feeling.... 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.”
— New York Times
“Bowlaway is that most improbable of literary phenomena: a buoyant, joyful, rollicking yarn of sadness and loss.... McCracken’s gloriously vibrant and boisterously surprising narrative voice is one of the great triumphs of Bowlaway.... Reminiscent of John Irving, with echoes of Dickens.... A tour de force.”
— Boston Globe
“Reading Elizabeth McCracken—the gorgeously-put-together sentences parading the pages like models on a Paris runway; the crazy, original insights; the definitive, wholly fictional pronouncements—is like going on an automotive safari. . . . I could not stop reading.”
“McCracken’s delightful prose and rich historical details make this the perfect book to get lost in.”
— Real Simple
“Every now and then, a novel reinvents the language of storytelling in dazzling ways.... A comic marvel... The master stylist uses the offbeat lilt of fairy tales to spin a quintessentially New England saga.... Rolls a strike right through the heart of the American epic.”
— O, the Oprah Magazine
“Whimsical, enchanting.... The sort of novel with which you fall in love.... Every page seems to provide the kind of writing that makes a reader stop cold, savoring the moment…. [Bowlaway] takes your hand and hurries you into an inviting, curious world, leaving you happily bereft at its end.”
— Seattle Times