The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a story of two sisters and their split over underage drinking.
Helen drinks beer for the first time in her teens and discovers an almost obsessive love of all things beer: lagers, IPAs, stouts, you name it. At first she tries to get her hands on beer to drink, but then she decides that she wants to create beer. She hooks up with (and eventually marries) a local beverage heir (Blotz Brewery) and talks her elderly dad into selling his farm to help fund her venture. The trick is that she does not split this money with her sister, Edith, which causes a rift of silence that lasts until they are in their seventies.
Most of the story follows Edith’s descent into poverty with her husband, who dies and leaves her alone. They do not own their home, they rent, and so when she eventually loses her jobs in the recession, she has to move to a cheaper apartment in a more touch and go neighborhood. Events transpire that also cause her to be the guardian of her granddaughter, who somehow finds herself employed at a local brewery instead of going to college (see also: crippling poverty).
I have to be honest and say that I did not like this one as much as Kitchens of the Great Midwest. While Kitchens was able to weave one woman’s influence through many different stories, Lager Queen is laser focused on beer, Beer, BEER! almost to the point where certain story turns are unbelievable. The final resolution of the story lacked the weight of Kitchens, even though everyone coming together should have felt very emotional. The story almost begs me to wish for Helen’s ruination, and yet it also wants me to crave her reuniting with Edith? Bringing Helen back into Edith’s life at all demands a level of redemption that this book just does not allow time for. I want Helen to fall from grace, to experience want and poverty, to reap what she has sown with her greed and manipulation before she has to come crawling back to Edith because Edith has built something successful with her granddaughter and Helen could still have what she loved but because she had to finally share with Edith. There is a lesson in this book that is lost in the seemingly rushed ending.
I will say that Stradal’s portrayal of how the economy and education works for people who are struggling was very spot on. Poverty hiding in plain sight, kids working jobs to help their parents pay bills, trying to avoid shaming at school by putting up a front, and the list could go on and on. I was uncomfortable reading the second half of this book if only because it immersed me in so much of what my life has been like so far. One of the reasons I kept reading was to see how it all turned out – and low and behold like so much of being poor, getting out often takes luck and charity and sometimes even that is very shaky.
Stradal’s writing is still amazing, and Edith’s story is compelling enough to enjoy it on its own without knowing anything about Helen, so I finished the book and was happy for the group of brewing grandmas having fun making beers they thought would be cool. Pick this one up and see if you feel the same way. I wouldn’t miss one of Stradal’s books and you shouldn’t either.