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Of candlepin bowling and people

Cover of Bowlaway: A Novel
A review of Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken

Bowlaway is a community saga set in Salford, Massachusetts centered on a candlepin* bowling alley. For those of you not familiar with candlepin, it is a variation of bowling played in New England with pins that have a cylindrical shape that taper toward each end similar to a candle. Scoring is different from tenpin and the balls are smaller, with no finger holes. The downed pins are not cleared away between balls during a player's turn and throughout most of the 1900s were hand set by humans who tucked themselves up on a shelf at the end of the lane.

This novel spans many decades starting around the turn of the last century with the discovery of a still-living woman found lying unconscious in a cemetery. Bertha Truitt is a force to be reckoned with from the moment she awakes until the day she dies in a freak accident. When Bertha opens Truitt Alleys, Salford and its residents are forever altered. The relationships and work situations at Truitt Alleys, later Bowlaway, touch on everything from poverty and class to women's rights, mental illness, alcoholism, interracial marriage and everything in between. This time period includes multiple wars, the introduction of indoor plumbing and electricity, and televised "Bowling for Dollars." Families are built, torn apart, and separated by time and distance. But always they are connected to the alley. Always. 

Family trees continue to grow and branch. Leaves fall off and new ones sprout. Bowlaway explores the stories of the Truitts in Salford and beyond. At the end of the day, we can't always explain why we love who we do, but family is recognizable and identifiable.

*I did not grow up with candlepin, but have had the pleasure of playing at Koz's Mini Bowl on the south side of Milwaukee. It is a charming bowling alley and worth a visit next time you are in Brew City.

Mar 13, 2019