Cover image for Bowlaway

Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Ecco, [2019]
Physical Description:
373 pages ; 24 cm
"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"-- Provided by publisher.
Geographic Term:


Material Type
Call Number
Book Fiction Mccra
Book Fiction Mccra
Book Fiction Mccra
Book Fiction Mccra

On Order




A Recommended Book of 2019 from

Entertainment Weekly * O, The Oprah Magazine * Southern Living * BBC * Huffington Post * Lit Hub * Kirkus * Bustle * Publishers Weekly * BookRiot * Popsugar * Bookish * The Boston Globe * The Seattle Times * Vulture * Real Simple

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.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

McCracken's stellar novel (after Thunderstruck) opens at the turn of the 20th century with Bertha Truitt being discovered unconscious in a cemetery in little Salford, Mass., seemingly having fallen from the sky. Bertha is middle-aged, plump, and enjoys the absence of a corset, but in spite of her unprepossessing appearance, she initiates a love affair with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revives her at the cemetery. The two marry and have a daughter, Minna. Townspeople, meanwhile, find Bertha charismatic; they begin to dream about her and to credit her with magical powers. With fierce determination, she establishes a bowling alley that uses newfangled candlepins, a game that she (falsely) claims to have invented. Bertha's loving family completes her happiness before a freak accident (McCracken is a pro at inventing such surprises) derails her plans. Almost everyone-Joe Wear and Virgil, LuEtta and Jeptha, Nahum and Margaret-with whom Bertha has come in contact mystically finds himself or herself in love; often the catalyst is the bowling alley, where they meet. Loss is as prevalent as love, however, and the whims of fate cast a melancholy tinge on characters' lives. The bowling alley itself is almost a character, reflecting the vicissitudes of history that determine prosperity or its opposite. 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. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* McCracken (Thunderstruck & Other Stories, 2014) is a beloved bard of the eccentric, the misbegotten, and the unfathomable. In this epic American tall tale, a woman has seemingly fallen from the sky, landing in a cemetery in little, turn-of-the-twentieth-century Salford, Massachusetts. Two misfits happen upon her: the limping, lonely orphan Joe Wear and Leviticus Sprague, a poetry-loving doctor. Bertha Truitt, strong, solid, and assertive, turns out to be an evangelist for the tricky sport of candlepin bowling. She opens a bowling alley, the book's anchoring center; hires Joe; encourages women bowlers; and scandalously marries Dr. Sprague, a black man. They have a prodigy daughter, Minna, fervently loved by the household help, Margaret, long after Minna vanishes. Mysteries human and supernatural percolate, punctuated by unlikely passions, crimes, and bizarre deaths as scoundrels, godsends, lost souls, and screw-ups converge at the bowling alley. As the Truitt line barely survives generation-by-generation, the decades are marked by changes in bowling-alley equipment and decor. McCracken writes with exuberant precision, ingenious lyricism, satirical humor, and warmhearted mischief and delight. Though some otherworldly elements feel forced, McCracken is unerring in her spirited emotional and social discernment. 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.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

LANDFALL, by Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $29.95.) The latest of this author's Washington political novels imagines the goings-on inside (and outside) George W. Bush's White House in 2005-6, with a romance between aides figuring as prominently as Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. ALL THE LIVES WE EVER LIVED: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, by Katharine Smyth. (Crown, $26.) In this elegiac memoir written in the wake of her father's death, Smyth turns to Woolf's masterpiece "To the Lighthouse" for comfort and insight. Her exploration of grown-up love, the kind that accounts for who the loved one actually is, gains power and grace as her story unfolds. LADY FIRST: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk, by Amy S. Greenberg. (Knopf, $30.) Greenberg argues that Polk, the slaveowning territorial expansionist who was married to the 11th president, was one of the most powerful and influential first ladies in history. BOWLAWAY, by Elizabeth McCracken. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) McCracken's long-awaited new novel offers a rich family saga, a history of candlepin bowling and a burlesque chronicle of American oddballs. It's a crowded book, but McCracken's ironic perspective and humane imagination never desert her. THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS: Essays, by Esme Weijun Wang. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) Wang draws on her own multiple psychotic breaks and hospitalizations to present a picture of schizophrenia that never reduces it to pathology. She effectively explores the state of mind she enters when gripped by an episode, recasting it as simply another form of consciousness. WE CAST A SHADOW, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. (One World, $27.) This ingenious novel, set in a futuristic American South and featuring a father willing to go to extremes to protect his son from racism, marks the debut of an abundantly talented and stylish satirist. NOTES FROM A BLACK WOMAN'S DIARY: Selected Works of Kathleen Collins, edited by Nina Lorez Collins. (Ecco/HarperCollins, paper, $17.99.) Collins, who died in 1988, is best remembered as the first black woman to direct a feature film ("Losing Ground"). But she was a skilled writer too, and this collection, edited by her daughter, probes complex interior lives. THICK: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom. (New Press, $24.99.) This profound cultural analysis, a model of black intellectualism, deftly mixes the academic and the popular. DRAGON PEARL, by Yoon Ha Lee. (Rick Riordan/Hyperion, $16.99; ages 8 to 12.) Elements of Korean mythology turbocharge this space opera, in which a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human seeks her missing brother. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

As evidenced by works such as Niagara Falls All Over Again, McCracken has one of the more distinctive literary sensibilities readers will likely encounter; playful, inventive, and fearless, she's drawn to oddball characters and the eccentric fringes of American family life. This new novel is a kind of feminist/existentialist riff on Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle." It begins with the discovery of a female body at a local cemetery in an early 1900s New England town. Happily, the young woman turns out to be alive. Surprisingly, however, she does not remember where she came from or how she got there. Thus begins our acquaintance with Bertha Truitt, a titanic force of nature. Bertha is the materfamilias at the center of a sprawling multigenerational tale about a dysfunctional family and the candlepin bowling alley that Bertha builds. The appealingly whimsical quality is carefully balanced with an understanding that life can be unpredictable and brutal. As the story unfolds, family members abandon one another, freak accidents occur, and ghosts haunt the living. Again and again, we find that in life-as in candlepin bowling-"nothing is for sure." VERDICT A playful, powerful meditation on the proposition that life itself is strange; enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/18.]-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.