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Expect the Unexpected

Guest Post by Julia Wilson.

Elizabeth McCracken is one of my favorite authors, primarily for her graceful blending of mundane realities with imaginative and unusual details, thus painting seemingly humdrum lives sparkling with the unexpected.

Bowlaway is no exception. Ostensibly a story about generations of an extended family living in a small town, McCracken’s odd characters are mixes of humorous, pathetic, lonely, yearning, creative, frail, damaged, liberated, secretive, selfish, and loving. They are mysterious and perplexing, not necessarily likeable but compelling. The book starts with a woman, Bertha Truitt, being found unconscious in a cemetery, without explanation. Thus begins the family saga of the Truitts, who own a bowling alley in the northeastern town of Salford.

But the real story in Bowlaway is the complexities of relationships, primarily marriages. In McCracken’s smooth sentences and use of an omniscient narrator, the reader is witness to weaknesses, loyalty, secrets, misunderstandings, and resignation. The partners in these relationships don’t have much eagerness in looking forward to the future yet have found a reality they can tolerate, containing both joy and heartache. There is tenderness between a woman and her mother-in-law, compassion of a wife in the face of her husband’s alcoholism, a recluse’s love for a mourning mother, and the relief of the few who escape the dreary life in Salford.

McCracken is at her best painting the facets of her characters so they come alive to the reader. They are flawed, self-interested, confused, and searching—as are we all.

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken. Ecco, November 2019.

Reviewer bio: Julia Wilson is an MA in Writing student at Johns Hopkins University

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