I love beer.
Like Ben Franklin, I believe it is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.
So I couldn’t resist picking up a new release with the fetching title, THE LAGER QUEEN OF MINNESOTA.
And like someone who scores the last case of beer in the store as an impending blizzard begins to rage, I am happy I did.
THE LAGER QUEEN OF MINNESOTA by J. Ryan Stradel. Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, New York. July 23, 2019. 368 pages.
When I checked out the premise-blurb on the inside flap of this book, I couldn’t help but see similarities to Shakespeare’s King Lear with one daughter acing another out of her inheritance.
Here’s what I mean:
Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can’t help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.
With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.
Meanwhile, Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up–will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?
What I found between the covers of this deceptively simple story was so much more than I expected.
Anyone who has ever loved and lost will connect to both Edith and her granddaughter, Diana.
Edith has a naivete that is common to the many old-school Minnesota church ladies that I have known.
But she’s got a heart as big as the prairie and a work ethic to match. Plus, the woman can make pie.
She had me at rhubarb.
And while tough-as-nails Helen seems a tad mercenary with her tunnel-vision on all things beer, she occasionally tugged at my emotions as she walked her chosen path. I have to respect a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it.
This novel is a family saga that spans the lifetimes of Edith and Helen.
As a writer, J. Ryan Stradal makes makes it all look so easy–but there’s so much more under the covers here than family drama.
This book made me laugh. Take this passage where teenage Diana is learning the craft-brewery business:
“You said your grandma’s sister works for Blotz,” Mo said. “What do you think of that stuff?”
Even before her grandpa first exposed her to the stuff at age twelve, Diana was made to understand by her parents, with no small amount of venom, that Blotz Premium Lager, Blotz Special Light, Blotz Ice, Blotz Draft, Blotz Dark, Blotz Ultra Dark, and Blotz Urban Malt were the worst varieties of alcohol ever conceived by man. In high school, though, its cheapness and availability made it the most likely variety of alcohol a teenager was likely to encounter, and friends of hers, like James, even wore Blotz T-shirts to school and claimed they weren’t being ironic.
It was only when she hung out with Clarissa that Diana came to associate Blotz with the true misery it wrought: fights in parking lots, roadside vomit, riveting public breakups, highly preventable swimming pool accidents, nonconsensual groping, and crude, percussive hangovers. In the summer before senior year alone, she’d understood that Blotz beer was a scourge, the anchor of a lifetime’s most haunting regrets, a signifier of an ignorant tastelessness, and a bitter trial for drinkers of little experience or cash.
“To be honest, I’m not that crazy about it,” Diana said. (188)
Stadal’s wit is spot-on. I felt like I was reading a story spun by a close friend.
But this novel also made me cry. The author truly captures what it’s like to be young and what it’s like to be old in America when you are not among the privileged class–he also captures the tragedy of losing loved ones when you have no choice but to move forward.
This is a respectful testament to the kind, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth folks who live in Minnesota–many of those from German and Scandinavian peasant stock, of whom I count myself one. And while I moved away from there while still in elementary school–you can never really take the Minnesota out of a Gopher-State girl.
But whether you’re from Minnesota or Hawaii, Milan or Minsk, this novel will make you feel. Deeply. It’s a delicious slice of life.
Foxy Rating Scale: Five Foxes out of Five:
Susan J. Anderson
Foxy Writer Chick