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3.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,322 ratings  ·  328 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 pound
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 5th 2019 by Ecco
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3.32  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,322 ratings  ·  328 reviews

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Brenda A
Jan 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sprawling delight. Like reading John Irving circa Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, but written by a woman.
Nov 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
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
Tyler Goodson
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
**** 1/2

Love, love, love Elizabeth McCracken and have been waiting for this one. Solid read but I wanted more Bertha.
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Louise Miller
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charming and sweet, if a bit precious for my tastes.
Donna McCaul Thibodeau
I didn't finish this, I just didn't like the style of writing.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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!
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ericka Seidemann
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Trish Graboske
Actually, 2.5, because it isn't often that a novel has an incident of human spontaneous combustion.
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
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A breath of fresh air. Ms. McCracken's descriptions, metaphors, adjectives are unparalleled-- in the opening pages she describes "prosperous beavers in their beaver coats" and it is perfect. Eyes are "eely", candlepin balls are the size of "hissing cartoon bombs". Perfection. I could read this again and again just for the language... but the story is great, too! Quirky New England folks for days, a creepy house, bowling, a wooden (mostly) effigy, and even a bog devil. What's not to love? Highly ...more
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Our subject is love because our subject is bowling. Candlepin bowling. This is New England, and even the violence is cunning subtle. It still could kill you.”

“He was born in a bowling alley, and he planned to die in one.”

“...grief looks like nothing from the outside, it looks like surrender, but in fact it is the most terrible struggle. It is friction. It is a spiritual grinding, and who's to say it cannot produce a spark and heat that, given fuel could burn a good man to the ground.”

Bertha Tru
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s difficult to read your first book by an acclaimed author because you have no frame of reference, no benchmark. Elizabeth McCracken is well known and esteemed for her novel The Giant’s House, but not having read it yet, I can’t compare it to this one.

This is mostly a family saga but with odd and interesting characters who seem otherworldly rather than true to life…almost in the vein of stories like Mary Poppins or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The matriarch of the family, Bertha Tru
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this wonderfully weird, sprawling novel - the characters and language; the way the story crawled forward through generations, skipping to different branches of the family tree; the fictional town of Salford, Massachusetts and its ever-present candlepin bowling alley. It was original and insightful, fully embodying its place and time in New England, which endeared it to me even more.
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Families, amiright? They can be so odd, so complex, so contentious, so exhaustively maddening. Oh, you claim yours is normal? Kinda sorta boring? I’d be willing to bet that’s not the case. Every family has its quirks. Lord knows it’s been documented ad nauseum in film and on television; most certainly in the written form. Hell, one could even argue the Bible is the first, if not the most prime, example. But that’s for another review.

Personally speaking, I can’t get enough of bizarro families, e
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, february-2019
She is such a delightful writer. I loved everything about this. Sprawling, imaginative, haunting, poignant, charming. And it was so fun to be reminded that pistachios used to be dyed red. What was up with that?
Robert Felton
Ambitious novel about the people whose lives are impacted by a candlestick bowling alley in the early 20th century New England. I appreciated the effort to develop this multilayered narrative as we pass through a series of bizarre events from conflagations to molasses floods to show how the alley becomes a symbol of the changing eras. But it was a bit too narratively muddled with unexpected plot detours that halted the story's momentum for me. The characters were also one dimensional.
Joe M
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, read-in-2019
There's no bowling knowledge (or interest!) required to enjoy this rollicking saga which stitches together a colorful assortment of eccentrics, and their orbit around a candlepin bowling alley in a small New England town. Like some of the best John Irving novels, Bowlaway does the perfect job of balancing the quirky comedy and tearful tragedies of these characters lives as they unfold over several decades, and it couldn't have arrived a better time, when many of us could use a distraction from w ...more
James Beggarly
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A big, humorous novel, by a writer who always writes with loads of joy. A hundred years in a bowling alley in a small town outside of Boston. An amazing array of characters find their way into the pages in this always amusing and fascinating book.
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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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“In the mornings he would walk…. At the start of a walk, alone or moving, the sun at his back or cold rain down his collar, he was more himself than under any other circumstance, until he had walked so far he was not himself, not a self, but joined to the world. Invisibly joined. Had a religion been founded on this, purely this, he would have converted….. Proof of God? Proof was in the world, and the way you visited the world was on foot…. Your walking was a devotion.” 1 likes
“No generation is ever spontaneous. We are none of us our own kind.” 1 likes
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