My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Confession time. I have never even tasted a beer – I just can’t get past the smell – so I didn’t always understand, or care about, the technical details of the brewing process or get the romance that the drinking and brewing of the stuff held for some of the characters in J. Ryan Stradal’s second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, which is the story of two sisters, Edith and Helen, and the repercussions of one’s efforts to make her dream of becoming a brewer a reality.
My lack of understanding about beer, however, did not impede my enjoyment of the story. Nor did it stop me from caring deeply about the three women at the center of the story, which is less about beer than it is about family, finding one’s passion and following it, love, the strength of women, and forgiveness. The characters are richly drawn and their world so utterly real that it is impossible not to be drawn into their lives and to root for them – not just their professional success – even when I wanted to physically drag Helen out of her ivory tower of pride and fear.
J. Ryan Stradal showed his writing talent in his first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest but his second novel is more cohesive while still illustrating both the small-ness and large-ness of the world with the close encounters and connections between the characters as their paths remain divided. And I have to say ‘cheers’ to that! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
There is something reminiscent of Fannie Flagg in reading J. Ryan Stradal’s writing, especially in The Lager Queen of Minnesota – perhaps it is the middle-America setting or the strong, complex female characters – but with more rough edges. Still, I haven’t yet read anything too much like his work. I definitely recommend reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest even if I found that it read more like a series of short stories that come together at the end. If it is the strong, complex women in a multi-generational story that you enjoy, Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly is a great read.