Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Sometimes I stumble upon things that interest me as I’m reading something else that caught my eye. Often times, I trip over these items of intrigue by reading Austin Kleon’s blog and newsletter, something I like to catch up on during my Saturday morning coffee.

For example, the following quote from Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway caught my eye because of my love of walking:

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.

People who know my husband and me might argue that we treat walking like a religion, something we participate in and study most days. Something that helps us see the world, and God, through a different lens than we might have had we not walked thousands and thousands of miles.

That quote made me look up Bowlaway, a recommended book of the year in 2019 from the likes of NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine, Southern Living, and many, many other publications.

It was easy to see why Bowlaway was recommended just by reading the description for Elizabeth McCracken’s bestseller:

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.

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