... wildly entertaining ... To read McCracken's inimitably clever sentences and follow her quirky narrative twists is to be constantly delighted ... There is so much life in McCracken's prose ... Even amidst much woe... it's a joy to unravel the mysteries of these eccentric lives ... Bowlaway, too, gives you something to think about besides your regrets. Under the guise of a playful portrait of three generations' involvement with a nascent sport in small-town New England, McCracken's novel encompasses issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in 20th century America. Add to that the many unusual forms love takes — and death, too — and you've got a novel that scores big.
...nothing is ordinary in this story ... this is really a novel of characters, not mysteries, and Bertha is a whirlwind of personality capable of disrupting the staid patterns of Salford and drawing people into her orbit ... Indeed, the tone of Bowlaway wobbles like a knocked pin that might fall toward comedy or tragedy. There’s a wickedness to McCracken’s technique, the way she lures us in with her witty voice and oddball characters but then kicks the wind out of us ... Several of these episodes also serve as a reminder of what a masterful short story writer McCracken is ... Such is the endlessly surprising course of genealogy in this novel with compassion to spare.
Like a pinbody, Elizabeth McCracken steadies her constellation of characters, and readers watch as fate rolls their way, knocking them sideways, sending them flying into the gutters or skimming past them, missing them altogether ... Always, though, shining through the carefully, beautifully painted grays, is the clarity of McCracken’s humor, bright and invigorating, like flickers of sunlight. Humor illuminates her work, revealing things clearly that we might have overlooked ... McCracken refuses to distinguish between the absurdity of comedy and the absurdity of tragedy ... Bowlaway... is jumpier, twitchier [than McCracken's previous novels], a big book that veers in and out of the lives of its idiosyncratic characters, creating what McCracken calls a 'genealogy,' occasionally verging, in its bric-a-brac of historical oddball detail, on the precious. But McCracken’s ironic perspective, her humor and her deeply humane imagination never desert her ... In Bowlaway, death and love and dreams live together, squabbling, soothing, holding hands, full of resentment, affection and confusion, like members of a large, spirited, extended family.