The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal: A review

J. Ryan Stradal's popular first novel was called Kitchens of the Great Midwest. This second one might well have been called Kitchens of the Great Midwest With Pie and Beer, but the title-pickers decided on the more original The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The story centers around three women, sisters Edith and Helen and Edith's granddaughter, Diana. They are part of an incredibly bland Midwestern family, and, frankly, I had a hard time distinguishing between the three as I read their stories. I kept getting them all mixed up.

The story begins with Edith and Helen growing up together. Edith early on showed an affinity for baking pies. Helen was fascinated with beer. For her sixteenth birthday, all Helen asked for was a bottle of beer. When she opened her gift from her parents and found a bottle of root beer, she had a tantrum and threw the bottle through the kitchen window. Later in the day, Edith, who by then was 21 and married, went and bought four bottles of beer of four different brands and left them for her sister in a bucket of ice in the family garage. She asked her father to deliver a note under her sister's bedroom door (where she had spent the rest of the day pouting) directing her to come to the garage. Helen found the beer and was ecstatic because she thought her father had left them for her (he was the great beer drinker in the family). Helen never told her differently.

The sisters' lives diverged and they grew apart. The great break came in later years when Helen and her husband moved back to take care of her elderly widowed father after Edith and her husband had been caring for him for years. Helen took care of him at the end of his life and influenced him to make a will in her favor, leaving the family farm to her alone. Things were already difficult financially for Edith and her family and this was like a slap in the face to her. The sisters' relationship never recovered.

Helen used the money from the farm to invest in her husband's family brewery. Their destiny was to make beer together and they became quite successful at it.

Edith and her husband continued to struggle financially as they raised two children together. Family tragedies eventually left Edith alone to raise her teenage granddaughter Diana.  

I won't bore you with all the details of the plot. Suffice to say that through a series of circumstances, Diana, too, is shown to have an affinity for brewing beer and ends up with a small craft brewery of her own. And perhaps you can see where this is all headed.

I had several problems with this book. Mainly, the characters just didn't work for me. This is a book about women and their relationships, but I felt that Stradal didn't have a real grasp on how women think or about their intellectual and emotional life. His three women characters were just too perfect and they all felt unreal. I couldn't really get interested in what was happening to them.

Another part of the difficulty was the timeline, which was just...weird. It went from the 1950s to the present day and it kept skipping back and forth with different characters, making it hard to follow.

All the information about brewing beers and all the different kinds of beers was just overwhelming. If you care about such things then I suppose it could have been fascinating to you, but I am not that person.

All in all, I felt there was a kernel of a good book in there somewhere but this iteration was simply a mess. It was not a terrible book and there were certainly parts of it that I found enjoyable, but I think I am being very generous in giving it three stars.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
  

Comments

  1. Sorry this one disappointed you. I loved Kitchens and plan to read this one too. The midwest encompasses a huge part of my life. Also I might say that women in the midwest are kind of unique.

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    Replies
    1. I enjoyed Kitchens of the Great Midwest also, but I just couldn't get into this one. The women characters did not seem unique to me. They just seemed bland.

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  2. Ha. I like how you don't hold back on your opinions about the book .... very generous to get 3 stars. That's good to know. I don't plan to read this one. Too much in my stack already. I am reading the Inland novel currently but I'll wait to read your review until after I finish.

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    Replies
    1. I think you'll like Inland, but I was obviously disappointed with this one.

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