Bowlaway (McCracken) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Book Club Resources. They can help with discussions for any book:

1. Bowlaway's narrator describes Bertha as "the oddest combination of the future and the past anyone had ever met." What does it mean to be both future and past? What is your reaction to Bertha—how would you describe her?

2. An undercurrent of sadness exists in midst of the novel's humor and wackiness. More than one woman has lost a child, an echo from Elizabeth McCracken's own life, about which she has written in her 2008 memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

    In this novel, LuEtta Mood, a Truitt's Alleys' patron, mourns a child: in the presence of another's baby, she is "a combustible gas, [and] the baby is a match… best to keep them apart." LuEtta fears she appears "dangerous and might never be allowed to hold anyone's baby again." Does McCracken's writing have resonance when it comes to someone you know (or yourself) who has experienced a tragedy of this magnitude?

3. LuEtta's own tragedy allows her to view Bertha's gaiety as "trained on a trellis of sorrow." What does she mean? Does her observation suggest that Bertha's exuberance is forced or inauthentic? Or does it mean that Bertha is truly able to live with joy, by somehow learning to put aside her sorrow?

4. Bertha bowls "because the earth was an ocean and you had to learn to roll upon it." Consider that winsome observation as, perhaps, an overriding theme of the novel. How, then, does that concept play out in the novel through various of its multitude of characters and events?

5. In what way does Bowlaway suggest that there is a great deal of mystery in peoples' lives? Ultimately, what do the many characters in the novel seek… and what does Truitt's Alleys provide them?

6. Talk about Joe Wear and his surprising life trajectory. What do you think of the description of Joe as "an elbow"?

7. Of all the characters, do you have a few select favorites, or one in particular?

8. In what ways do Bertha's views on issues of race, class, and gender seem more in tune with the 21st century than the early 20th. Does that anomaly trouble you: in some way detract from your reading? Or does Bertha's progressiveness enhance your reading experience? What were the prevailing attitudes toward African Americans and women 100 years ago?

9. Talk about the way the author foreshadows characters' fates long before they play out in the novel. In what way does this foreshadowing suggest the role of destiny in our lives… or exude a mysterious presence in life, or lend the novel an epic-like quality?

10. What insights did you come across, or what struck you most about this novel? What about children and love, yoga as laundry, dark thoughts (everybody needs them), and spiral staircases?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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