The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Rate: 4/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers):

I feel like I just read a book starring my very Midwest grandmothers and it was positively delightful, though I can imagine my Grandma Fether would be rather scandalized I compared her to a book with beer in the title. The Lager Queen of Minnesota is centered around two sisters and spans the many settings of their lives. The older of the two sisters, Edith lives a hard life that has many different, and often heartbreaking stages. Cue the tears because large swaths of this read can in no way be classified as happy, though capture the tribulations sometimes endured by these stalwart rocks. Where I fell in love with The Lager Queen of Minnesota was with the characters themselves who often brought a smile to my face as Stradal captures the essence and sacrifice that embodies the strong Midwestern woman. I struggle to recall another story that so bottles the complexity and strength of this often overlooked subset of the population. 

I found I had trouble following the timeline and the bouncing between characters, especially as there are long gaps or jumps in time before we would see another character again. That said, the flashbacks, overlaps, and recollections are worthwhile as we would see various momentous scenes from new vantage points, thereby gaining valuable insights into interactions that had seemed relatively clear cut. 

As we follow these sisters through the seasons of their lives, each turn of the wheel took on a life of its own with the characters growing in complexity with each new experience. Initially, Edith seemed to lead a very stereotypical existence for the Midwest by marrying young and having children. Instead, it was her passionate younger sister Helen who seemed to live the exciting life by breaking every mold by going off to college to make beer. A series of decisions, misunderstandings, and immaturity leads to a rift in the family that spans decades.

The two sisters lead very different lives, with Edith’s being much crueler and hard after a series of heartbreaking events. After she is left to care for her only granddaughter, Diana, the focus expands to the next generation. With the two struggling to pay the bills, let alone eat, a series of terrible decisions by Diana sets off a cascade of unexpected opportunities that change both of their lives forever. Helen on the other hand has lived in wealth throughout much of her life, however regardless of the money, her early passions settled for mediocrity. It was fascinating to read the subtle shifts that Stradal establishes between the two sister’s far different lives. Though he orchestrates a most heartfelt and happy ending, especially for a reader who loves a fantastic craft brew.

Overall, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a story that lends complexity and authenticity to a stereotypical Midwest grandmother and the hurdles life often puts in their way, while managing to pull on every heartstring along the way.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • I loved that these grandmas all stepped out of their comfort zone to make beer when Diana was in need of help. I seriously want to try Edith’s!
  • I wonder what Frank would have thought of Diana’s brewery?
  • How different would Diana’s life had been if she had went to college? How would she and Edith have managed?
  • I loved the reunion between sisters and the instant forgiveness would have been something that my Grandma would do. The contrast between the two sisters in the end was stark as Helen had spent a lifetime making mediocre beer despite her early passion and in the end it was Edith making waves for her craft beer.
  • The endless support of Edith’s son even though she had so little to give was another page out of my grandma’s handbook. Diana had feels much as I would in those situations.

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