Monday, February 18, 2019


Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (2019)

The story begins in the early 1900s when Bertha Truitt is found unconscious in a cemetery in a town where nobody knows her. She won't tell anyone about her past, saying only "I'm here now." She stays in the town- the fictional town of Salford, Massachusetts- and opens a candlepin bowling alley. As if her mysterious origins weren't scandalous enough, she also marries the doctor who first attended her, a black man named Leviticus Sprague. They build an octagonal house, have a kid, and the story continues long after their deaths, but stays focused on the bowling alley and those who continue to run it.

Filled with secrets, lies, longings, and lives of dissatisfaction, this story is just as quirky as you'd expect from Elizabeth McCracken. For someone who's been living in Texas for a long time now, it's clear that she'll never get New England out of her system and Bowlaway is filled with elements specific to the region, from candlepin bowling itself to the Great Molasses Flood. She also skirts the paranormal with a little spontaneous human combustion and a mysterious creature known locally as the Salford Devil.

Had this come from a different author, I would have been turned off by a book about bowling and never picked it up, but I will always and forever read everything that Elizabeth McCracken writes. As it turns out, it's only kind of about bowling, but mostly about all the people who are bowling and running the bowling alley. It wasn't terribly long and covered an extensive timespan, yet somehow I still felt like I got a good feel for all the characters, which is the most important part of any book for me.

Spanning about 80 years, we see a number of characters die during the story, many before their time, so it was actually pretty sad if you think about it. But tempered with McCracken's trademark humor and wit, it didn't feel nearly as depressing as it could have had it been written by someone else.

This is only her third novel, after The Giant's House (1996) and Niagara Falls All Over Again (2001) but she has also written short stories and a memoir and excels in all of those forms. Honestly, she's one of those authors who could write literally anything and I'd read it and probably love it.

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