Elizabeth McCracken’s highly anticipated new novel Bowlaway is her first in 18 years. This is a character-driven piece which begins at the turn of the last century, and is focused on the fictional community of Salford, Massachusetts. Grand in scope, the novel covers generations — all affected, some tangentially, by the inexplicable appearance of Bertha Truitt’s unconscious body, along with a bag carrying a bowling candlepin, in a graveyard.
Bertha, a single woman during a time when women were effectively conscripted to domesticity and interracial marriages were illegal in many states, not only started her own business with the bowling alley but chose as her husband the African-American doctor who examined her the night she was discovered in the cemetery. McCracken presents Bertha's seeming detachment from understanding her effect on others as the strength behind her independence and motivation.
According to McCracken, “in some ways she was the hardest character, probably because she is (I came to realize) such a mystery to herself. So every draft I did of the book was an effort to know her better, or at least to know her from the inside better. I knew what she looked like from the outside almost instantly, I just didn’t know all of her secrets.”
With character-driven pieces, relatability (not to be confused with likeability) is crucial for readers to be able to make a connection. McCracken revealed the characters' true selves with snapshots of their histories, and glimpses of their lives outside of Salford. The characters who got away from Salford and Truitt’s Alley were the ones that thrived. This was deliberate on the part of the author. “Some things I do by accident, but this was on purpose. (Though I’m not sure what my underlying message was.)”
Like life, novels evolve. The nature of Bowlaway required an ever-shifting spotlight. For example Joe Wear, a prominent character during the first half of Bowlaway, originally had a much-diminished role. “I have a soft spot for Joe Wear," McCracken told Spine. "In my earliest drafts he was a minor character. He surprised me.”
Authors sometimes weave aspects of themselves into their work, providing an authenticity otherwise unattainable from well-researched regurgitation. Ms. McCracken’s love of candlepin bowling is on display in the characters who are enamored of it – and not all of them are. “I do love candlepin bowling though I’m very bad at it. Terrible, in fact. The thing I like about it is also the thing that made it pleasurable to write about: It’s quite hard, and both kind of boring and yet filled with suspense. It requires patience (just like novel-writing).”
Bowlaway was released in February and has garnered high praise from across the book-reviewing world. McCracken expounds upon her personal affinity for candlepin bowling in an article from Slate Magazine, In Praise of Real Bowling. You can also follow her on twitter @elizmccracken and find her at elizabethmccracken.com.
Ireland hates to be pigeonholed, but "writer" and "interval yoga devotee" come to the forefront when she is prompted for descriptives. She has published blog posts for a luxury realtor in the Boston area, Amazon reviews requested by authors, and posts to her own personal blog. Her YA novel is currently blossoming under a perspective switch from third person to first.