Staff Review: "The Lager Queen of Minnesota"
Craft beer and microbreweries are popular everywhere these days, especially here in the Midwest. Author J. Ryan Stradal harnesses this as the focal point of his latest novel The Lager Queen of Minnesota, which follows a family of women through multiple decades, each one with ties to the beer-making industry.
The book opens with Edith, a woman in her 60s who works in the kitchen of a Minnesota nursing home. The pies Edith bakes are so good that they’ve put the facility on the map, making it a popular destination for Midwestern foodies. As the book unfolds, we learn more about Edith’s past and her estrangement from her younger sister, Helen, whom she hasn’t seen or spoken to in decades, since Helen stole Edith’s portion of the family inheritance and used the money to open up a brewery.
After a series of tragedies, Edith is left to raise her teenage granddaughter, Diana. Diana begins working at a local microbrewery after school and falls in love with the work. By the age of 19, she’s a well-respected brewmaster who has concocted her own popular IPA. But for Diana, adversity and setbacks are plentiful, and she turns to Edith for help. Though her falling out with Helen has left her with a negative feeling toward beer and brewing, Edith hesitantly agrees to lend her granddaughter a hand.
What I really appreciate about Stradal’s writing is the grasp he has on Midwestern culture and the folks who live in the region. That being said, the book fell a bit short of my expectations. I liked the concept of the novel and thought it was a great premise but felt it could have been better executed. The novel jumps around between time periods – anywhere from the 1950s to 2018 – which sometimes feels unnecessary. The protagonists also face an unusually large amount of tragedy – deaths, illnesses, financial trouble – so much so, that it seemed like they couldn’t ever catch a break.
Despite its flaws, I still think this book is worth reading. I enjoyed its lively characters, its original concept, and learned a lot about the beer-making process. If you want a book that feels like it’s a piece of home, this one’s for you.