Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken, Ecco, 2019, 295 pp
When a member of my three person Tiny Book Club recommended we read Bowlaway, I was doubtful. A book about bowling? Since I trust this woman's choices in reading, since it was getting great reviews and ratings, I dove in. It was amazing.
The body of a woman is found in the cemetery. She is alive, wearing a divided skirt, with a gladstone bag beside her containing "one abandoned corset, one small bowling ball, one slender candlepin, and under a false bottom, fifteen pounds of gold." Each of these items play a part in the story.
The woman is Bertha Truitt, mysterious, free-sprited, and the most quirky character in a story full of them. The time is the turn of the 20th century. The place is Salford, a small town outside of Boston.
This wonderful story is about candlepin bowling, women, men, and three generations of a most odd family. Just as I had settled in to loving Bertha, she dies. It was shocking! Not a spoiler but I would not have told you except it is mentioned in the book summary and she had to die to make way for the rest of the story.
Elizabeth McCracken, who has written novels, short stories and a memoir, is a wonderful writer. Not a wrong word or phrase or sentence in her almost hefty prose. I am so happy to have made her acquaintance. She has an edginess to her similar to Lydia Millet or Amy Bloom. Her concepts about family reminded me of Ann Patchett.
Women's fiction as I like it, without false notes, sentimentality or egregious psychological violence. Yet, her women are sentimental, her men are sometimes false, and everyone is portrayed in all their psychological weirdness, while there is just enough violence to keep you on your toes.
All three of us Tinies were rapturously impressed. Bowling (candlepin bowling) infuses the story but it is about life.