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3.11  ·  Rating details ·  5,540 ratings  ·  1,137 reviews
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 poun
ebook, 384 pages
Published February 5th 2019 by Ecco
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Nora Fran is forgetting or ignoring the part where a man is bludgeoned to death with a bowling ball & the graphic descriptions of the survivors and victims…moreFran is forgetting or ignoring the part where a man is bludgeoned to death with a bowling ball & the graphic descriptions of the survivors and victims of the molasses flood.(less)
Fran Burdsall
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Average rating 3.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,540 ratings  ·  1,137 reviews

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Jan 13, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shelf-awareness
My first novel from McCracken, and probably my last if the others are like this.

“Sprawling” is the best word for this book. It spans like 15 different lives, all stemming from one bowling alley in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. It’s weirdly untethered despite everyone being related in some way to each other, and I found myself getting more and more bored as the book went on.

There just isn’t a point. I’ve had this same reaction to books like this before and had I known that Bowlaway wouldn’t
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like sprawling generation-spanning tales brilliantly written in the vein of John Updike or Lauren Groff, then Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken is the book for you. However, if you like poorly written tales full of misspellings, irregular capitalization, a meandering plot, and a peculiar fixation on flatulence (all written in pencil), then I have to say my son Willoughby’s report on Fennec foxes that he wrote last year in 2nd grade would be the recommendation to take. McCracken’s Bowlaway t ...more
Ron Charles
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Who could walk away from this opening line?

“They found a body in the Salford Cemetery, but aboveground and alive.”

It sounds like the start of some gruesome murder mystery, but then the wackiness worms in: “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.”

Death and life, frosted with macabre comedy: It’s why we’ve enjoyed Elizabeth McCracken since her debut novel, “The Giant’s House,” app
Nov 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was an ARC I received from a publisher. I had loved one of Elizabeth McCracken's short story collections (Thunderstruck) so I thought I would enjoy this book. However, it turned into one of those slogs that I ended up forcing myself to power through.

I don't know how to describe this novel because it made no sense to me, but the story mostly revolves around a bowling alley in a small New England town. The bowling alley is founded by the mysterious Bertha Truitt. Eventually it is run by her s
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A sprawling delight. Like reading John Irving circa Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, but written by a woman.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I loved the breezy, whimsical writing. This book is often touching and funny and wise. Unfortunately, it got bogged down with too many characters and a lot of the book was focused on characters that weren’t even the most interesting ones. Overall, though, it was charming and she’s a great writer. 3.5 ⭐️
Trish Graboske
Actually, 2.5, because it isn't often that a novel has an incident of human spontaneous combustion. ...more
Tyler Goodson
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arcs
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.
This is a story spun around a bowling alley, the first kind, back in the northeast corner of the US, hundreds of years ago. Before picking this book up I had no idea there was more than one kind of bowling, each with its own pins, balls, alleys and experts. Had no idea. (Ten-pin, Candlepin, Duckpin, Nine-pin & Five-pin, just to name a few. . . .)

Generations of characters hover around the old place, in Salford. The story (if you can call it a story) is filled with races, families, types mix and m
Louise Miller
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book a million reasons—the language, the characters, the storytelling, but most of all, for the way it expresses a love for Massachusetts—the candlepin bowling, the Peggy Lawton cookies, the great molasses flood, the Mary Jane candies—it was like reading a book made straight from my childhood obsessions. A total delight.
Robert Blumenthal
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I can't believe I'm giving a 3-star rating to a novel by Elizabeth McCracken, for I adored her first two novels, The Giant's House and Niagara Falls All Over Again. I found her to be a tremendously original, creative and engaging storyteller. Bowlaway, however, just didn't do it for me. I gave it three stars for the quality and strength of the writing, but I found the narrative elements and character development to be somewhat lacking. I found as I got deeper into the book and the initial leadin ...more
Quirky, yes. Amazing sentences and rambling style and completely enjoyable. If wondering if such would interest you, read the 5 star reviews and then read the 2 star ones. You'll likely find your people. Ha! ...more
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
**** 1/2

Love, love, love Elizabeth McCracken and have been waiting for this one. Solid read but I wanted more Bertha.
May 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
I just... can’t. At first I thought the writing would get me through, it seemed high quality as well as quirky and whimsical, but it started grating on me as pretentious. Then, I realized that I felt extremely distant from the characters... they didn’t grab me as interesting or particularly relatable. Then, I started getting the distinct impression this was just going to meander and realized reading it feels like a chore.

This is too bad, I remember reading a McCracken short story years ago that
Jun 25, 2019 rated it liked it
As if dropped from the sky, Bertha Truitt is found unconscious in Salford Cemetery with a bag beside her containing "one abandoned corset, one small bowling ball, one slender candlepin, and, under a false bottom, fifteen pounds of gold." She awakes and quickly gets to work building a candlepin alley in town.

OK I guess. I mean I'm intrigued but it just can't sustain me for an entire book. At the sentence level McCracken absolutely slays, her writing feels turn of the century meets Tim Burton whi
Donna McCaul Thibodeau
I didn't finish this, I just didn't like the style of writing. ...more
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. I wanted to like this book. But it was just *too* quirky for me, in a way that made it feel like it was trying to be.

There were moments of real feeling, and where it managed to convey deep unsettling emotions of the realities of life. It had decently portrayed characters. And the story, or the very intertwined stories, was/were overall good.

And yet...there was somehow both too much and too little at the same time. I almost stopped reading several times, and while I'm glad I didn't, I
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I took a peek at a few reviews of Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway before I started reading it. One or two (positive) reviews suggested that it might 'verge on the precious', so I was on the watch for that. I didn't find it. Bowlaway is, in a word, perfect. This one sentence from a great Buzzfeed article says everything I want to say about the book and the author:

While her output has been steady — and Twitter has been a wonderful place to find her in the meantime — McCracken’s third novel still fe
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a girl in the 1950s, I grew up watching my grandmother bowl. It came about like this:

The fire department burned down the house across the street from us, an early 19th c house like ours, one built by a founding family in the area. It was scheduled to be demolished and the volunteer fire department decided to burn it as a training exercise.

My parents and I watched from our second-floor windows as the house became enveloped in orange flames that lit our faces, the heat nearly too much to stand.
Erin Glover
Like the balls in a game of candlepin bowling, this book bounced all over the place. Both the writing style and the plot were difficult to follow. What is McCracken trying to say? Therein lies the problem—a dearth of interesting or any themes.

Bertha magically appears in a snow bank in a cemetery where she is discovered by Joe Wear and a “colored” doctor, Leviticus Sprague. She later tells Joe with the deformed head she will leave her candlepin bowling alley to him and proceeds to marry the docto
Jocelyn H
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Elizabeth McCracken book, and, my goodness, her writing style is a delight. Her writing is highly inventive and quirky and imaginative. It put me in mind of Heather O'Neill at times, the way you wouldn't be sure where a sentence might take you, but you're amazed once you get there.

I particularly loved the first third of the novel, the Bertha years. Bertha is, by far, my favourite character. She is quirky and original, and I would have been happy to spend the whole novel with he
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth McCracken can make a sentence sing, and this book is a chorus. This is a big book, full of vibrant characters and moments of stunning insight.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Charming and sweet, if a bit precious for my tastes.
Bob Lopez
DNF--hoo boy, I did not care.
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Book buzz spread like fire when the release of Bowlaway was announced. I hate to admit that I hadn't read a single word from Elizabeth McCracken before but appreciated the fervor readers have for the author.

Bowlaway certainly pulled me in with this first line:

"They found a body in the Salford Cemetery, but aboveground and alive."

And so begins a sweeping family saga full of quirky characters.  
We are introduced to Bertha Truitt, the mysterious woman found in the cemetery with nothing more than a
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderfully quirky family saga revolving around a bowling alley. How could that not be original? And it starts with a woman found (alive) in a cemetery. What was she doing there? Where did she come from? This is Bertha Truitt, who claimed to have invented candlepin bowling. Readers will discover that she'd certainly reinvented herself; the only story Truitt ever gives is the present one. During this first scene, we get a first impression of Bertha, Leviticus Sprague, the doctor she mar ...more
Ericka Seidemann
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs
Spoon River Anthology meets Cold Comfort Farm in this quirky story of a family-owned candlepin bowling alley that spans generations. There is a whisper of magical realism with a hefty dose of down-to-earth wisdom. 

At the turn of the 20th century, Bertha Truitt, described as matronly and jowly,  wearing a split skirt, is found lying face down in the local cemetery. She sits up and explains that she's the inventor of candlepin bowling. The townspeople are perplexed and mesmerized by Bertha Truitt
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction

I've been desperately waiting for a new novel from Elizabeth McCracken for 16 years, and I'm thrilled to report it was well worth the wait. I always hesitate to call her books charming--though this is always the first word that comes to mind--because they are also utterly lacking in the cloying sentimentality typical of so-called charming books. Some writers you read for plot, others for their characters, others for their beautifully crafted sentences. McCracken is astonishingly good at all thre
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
This was a case of "Eat that frog". When I first heard all the hype surrounding this book I said that's not for me. Then it made Tournament of Books list for Camp TOB. I tried guys. I failed. ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Even the gorgeous writing, vivid imagery, and colorful characters were not enough to make this melancholy novel interesting or memorable. I can tell it's going to be one of those books where I see the title in a couple of years and think "did I read that?". ...more
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Mt. Lebanon Publi...: Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken 1 10 Jun 10, 2019 01:29PM  

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Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads database.

Elizabeth McCracken (born 1966) is an American author. She is married to the novelist Edward Carey, with whom she has two children - August George Carey Harvey and Matilda Libby Mary Harvey. An earlier child died before birth, an experience which formed the basis for McCracken's memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figme

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